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Published: September 11th 2015
Ready for Adventure!
Andy, Michelle & Grace gear up for adrenaline over the river....
August brought more visitors to my home -- this time friends who live in Ecuador with their niece who was visiting from Boston. Andy & Michelle first came to Ecuador over 20 years ago, fell in love with the area around Quilotoa crater, bought land and built a most awesome Eco-lodge in Chugchilan, high in the Andes. The Black Sheep Inn has been an enormous success and really opened tourism in the region. For the past four years they've stepped back from the day-to-day running of the hotel, turning over the reins to a guy from the village who does a great job. Andy & Michelle are now free to go exploring throughout South America in their well-outfitted VW van. They arrived in Banos with their big sweet drooly dog, Rumi and 13 yr old Grace. They are all amazingly fit and into adrenaline sports, so I took them to some of the area's best adventure tourism spots!
Since I wasn't particularly eager to do the advanced zipline/bridge walk/rock-climbing circuit, I 'hung out' in the tarabita (hanging cable car) and took photos as they enjoyed a morning of adventure sports. I have to say, I think
Tarabita Cable Car
That's me up in that hanging metal cage - poised to take pictures of the zipliners.
I had as much fun as they did! It was exciting enough for me to sway from a metal cable at the entrance to a deep gorge with a rushing river below. That afternoon we all soaked in the natural hot spring baths of El Salado - a perfect antidote for them since climbing the rock face was highly physically demanding. I also took my visitors up to the Casa de Arbol where we goofed around on the Swing at the End of the World. While I ramble on about other things, enjoy the next series of photos documenting our adventures together.
One way that I relax at home in Banos is by doing my baubled artwork. I decorate picture frames and Nynne displays them in her bookstore/gallery. As I added my two newest frames to the shelf display we realized that there's no more room and agreed that I'm going to have to sell some if I want to keep on creating more! I may try to mount an exposition of women's art and handicraft just before the Christmas holidays. As another way to feed my need to create I signed up to take
Metal mesh squares suspended high over the rushing river made for a breathtaking adventure (I was just watching!)
a week-long pottery workshop led by an indigenous woman from the Amazon. It starts up a week after I get back home (I'm currently in the last days of my California visit).
Another way I spend some downtime in Banos is by catching up on some popular TV series (thanks again to last year's visitors who left their Netflix account on my computer!!) This time I binge-watched Breaking Bad -- so many people had been talking about it, I felt like I had to stay in the loop so I watched all 5 seasons in a period of two weeks, learning more about crack that I ever thought I need to know! I continued my education about drug culture in the US by going with my sister to see 'Straight Outta Compton' at a big Los Angeles movie theater. It felt like I was observing a life in a parallel universe, extending as far as the cinema's pre-film screen advisement to report any suspicious characters to a theater employee.
There came run of Reese Witherspoon connections in my life. After seeing a facebook post about how lightning shapes
Scaling the wall of the gorge to reach the 2nd zip line take-off point
sand some friends recommended that I watch 'Sweet Home Alabama' (starring Reese). Two days later when I set off for a solo drive to Quito I began listening to a book on CD called, 'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee. Guess who narrated the audio production of the book? And then, as I was observing practice teaching lessons while assessing the teacher training course in Quito one of the participants presented a listening exercise; Reese's graduation speech monologue from 'Legally Blonde'. I found the triple coincidence quite bizarre, and a mental picture kept popping into my mind of a fb meme I saw several years back: a picture of Reese holding a soup ladle (Reese With Her Spoon) and beside it (Reese Without Her Spoon). Silly but fun!
As is often the case, although I enjoyed my work assessing the TESOL Certificate Program I didn't love having to spend time in Quito. The pace of the big city is jarring after my slowed-down lifestyle in Banos. To avoid some of the urban stress I always park my truck at the hostel and get around on foot or by taxi. I walked across
Flying Over the Canyon
Michelle in flight over the Pastaza River
the road to my bank and realized that I didn't have my debit card. Unsure whether it had just dropped out somewhere at my house or was actually lost, I decided to block the card and apply for a new one. At the information desk I asked for a turn with a service representative, but the girl who handed out numbers told me I should just call the customer service line. I insisted that I wanted to speak face-to-face with a person here at the bank, but she refused to give me a turn and just jotted down the phone number I was to call.
Fuming, I waited in line to see a teller so I could withdraw a chunk of cash. Once at the window I told the teller that I wanted to speak with a service rep but the gal wouldn't give me a turn. The teller's response was that I should just tell her that I had to complete some other transaction. My eyes flew open wide as I responded incredulously, 'Oh, so at this bank the client has to LIE to receive service?!' She just pressed the
El Salado Hot Springs
Nice view of the remodeled baths...the water droplet on the lens seems appropriate!
bell and called for the next customer in line. Let me just finish my rant against Banco de Pichincha by saying that I find it totally offensive that at the ATM (Cajero Automatico) they now charge 35 cents if I want to find out the balance of how much of MY money THEY have!!
In between doing my teacher training observations and writing the assessment report for SIT (School for International Training, the university where I did my master's, oversees the TESOL certificate courses worldwide, so I am hired by them as a contractor) - I had a chance to visit with Quito friends and collect more donations for the upcoming fund-raising garage sale in Banos. Dean & Debbie Rule, friends since 1988, invited me and Caitlin over for lunch. Caitlin is the daughter of some other American friends we taught with back in 80's and she is starting her first year of teaching in Ecuador...International Education, the next generation!
I spent an afternoon with my old friend and former boss (from '88), Jean Brown. I love going with her to hoof around the Centro Historico (Quito's Old
El Salado warm springs - soaking in the hottest pool, chatting and laughing!
Town) - she knows every nook and cranny, having lived there for over 30 years! We ducked into tiny shops & galleries, went out for a luxurious lunch in a beautifully restored colonial house and then piled into her tiny Austin mini car to drive up to the north of the city to an area where few foreigners shop. We found the Asian specialty stores and I bought two bottles of sesame oil, one for me and one for a friend. After our Inaquito market exploration, I had her drop me at Santa Clara market - famous for baskets, woodwork and ceramics. As I got out of her car and she drove off the bottom fell out of my Asian plastic bag! Fortunately, only one of the bottles of sesame oil broke and the nearby guard & street sweeper helped me to gather up my slimy, scattered purchases. Despite numerous clean-up efforts my hostel room smelled strongly of sesame -- at least it's a pleasant fragrance! I was amazed at how strong the smell was, but how quickly my olfactory adapted and after very few moments I barely sense the odor. Now it's all closed up in my truck; triple
Swinging to Infinity
The Swing at the End of the World, made famous on Instagram, is located at Casa del Arbol, about a half hour outside of Banos.
bagged but I'm sure I'll be hit by a fragrant wave when I open the door.
So, in recent months I decided that I need to shake up my life in order to meet some new people. While I was in Quito there was a US Embassy Town Meeting to disseminate information about the recently re-awakened Cotopaxi Volcano. I decided not to attend the meeting, but considered going to the after-party scheduled at a Mexican place around the corner from my hostel. I shook myself from my lethargy and headed over to the restaurant.There was a table full of LOUD Americans laughing and drinking. Did I want to go in? Among the group were a few guys around my age on their own…go on Jill! Feeling suddenly shy and hesitant, I began to chat with the guard who was watching the cars on the street. I thought if I told him of my dilemma the nervousness would fade. Not the case. I did finally walk through the restaurant, past the jovial crowd and decided that (a) maybe this wasn’t the right situation to meet folks and (b) maybe these weren’t the folks I wanted to
Road to Llignai
Posing with Michelle & Grace as the Pastaza River gushes below
meet. I returned to my hostel room and watched a movie.
The flights to Panama and then onward to LAX were great – COPA is really a world class airline. I especially love the personal movie screen on the seat back – I catch up on recent (and oldie) films and the time flies by (pun intended). On this trip I watched ‘Big Eyes’, ‘500 Days of Summer’, ‘Rain Man’ (for about the 10th
time!) & two episodes of ‘Friends’ (I’d never seen the one where Phoebe marries Mike). While waiting in line at Panama airport there was an adorable American family in line behind me – two adolescent daughters, an uptight Mom and an oh-so-cute Dad. He looked up at the departures screen and asked, “Hey, do you gals mind if I extend my vacation for another week…I’m going to go to Rio de Janeiro” – One of the daughters piped up, “Oh, was that where the movie Rio was made?” The mom responded, “Since it was a cartoon I doubt it was filmed there!” Made me chuckle to myself.
Arriving at LAX, after a long day of travel
Rumi took the wheel while waiting in the van for us. He's a big, lovey pooch!!
starting way before sunup, the last thing I wanted to see was a sea of thousands of people winding their way slowly along the immigration lines. Since I was eligible to use an unmanned kiosk my wait was only an hour and a half. One little girl who’d gone way beyond exhaustion and into silliness was keeping us entertained with her goofy antics. The mom just rolled her eyes while everyone else grinned. I watched in fascination as the robotic kiosk cameras raised or lowered automatically to the height of the traveler or kid that was being held up to the screen.
After my own kiosk adventure, I had to join another line to show the receipt that the robot photographer spat out for me. I kept thinking, with this long wait the luggage will surely be waiting… but NO! The bags from my flight were just starting to come out of the chute, and we couldn’t even get near the carousel because all of the bags from the previous Turkish Air flight were blocking the way, since the non-US citizen immigration lines were even longer than mine! Finally my suitcases appeared and I managed
Linda the Lora
This sweet parrot lives at Miramelindo in Rio Verde. She shared my yuca sticks at the lunch table!
to wriggle them out and join the customs line (another half hour!) By now I was just wiped.
Fortunately, the Dollar Rent-a-Car bus was waiting at the curb. Unfortunately, it was packed to the gills. By the time I finagled my bags off the bus I was at the end of the rental car check-in line; another hour of waiting. OY! To pass the time I got Turkish lessons from the family in line behind me. The teenage son was studying in Michigan and he got a kick out of my efforts to imitate his phrases in Turkish. Finally, into my tiny roller-skate of a rental car and onto the freeway. The traffic was not as bad as I expected – the first pleasant surprise of the afternoon!
My Chevy Spark rental had a thermometer on the dash which read 109 degrees my first day in LA, and over a hundred on several other days! One radio DJ was talking about new luxury cars with automatic “moisture sensor” windshield wipers -- seemed like a waste in drought-stricken southern California. So many LA homes have traded their lush yards for xeriscape,
Dad & Bonnie
Both born in 1926; how inspiring is their amazing capacity to love again at almost 90 years old!
drought-friendly landscaping. I enjoyed a visit to the Getty museum, such a beautiful setting even though the gardens were spare and almost all of the water features were turned off.
During my two weeks in California I spent time every day with my Dad, often sharing meals with him and his lady friend, Bonnie. I'm so glad he's found companionship, someone with whom to share meals & activities. A few months ago Bonnie broke her hip and was in a nursing home for awhile; I guess my Dad was feeling rather adrift during her absence. My sister took him over to visit her as often as possible (see sweet photo of the two of them). She had just recently returned to the senior community when I arrived and my Dad was starting to get back into the rhythm of spending daily time with her (although he needed reminding where her new room was located). A few times Bonnie got upset (jealous?) when I took my Dad out to a restaurant for a meal or if he chose to play cards with me rather than watch TV with her. She would tell him to go ahead and spend
Keeping up the family tradition of dim sum brunch in Chinatown every time I come to LA!
time with me while I was visiting, but the tone of her voice said otherwise. OY!
One day my Dad and I took a drive up the coast and had lunch in Malibu, overlooking the ocean. It was lovely to be able to spend so much time with him, but also an emotional strain. His short-term memory is all but gone and it required great patience to have the looping over-and-over conversations with him. He would often get going about how he felt ready to die and wanted to be with my Mom again (she passed 13 yrs ago). Difficult to know what to say but I just tried to show him constant love and support, acknowledging how hard it must feel for him to go on day after day while trying to stay upbeat. It's amazing when he starts remembering experiences from his childhood, and he generally liked it when I would remind him of memories from my youth.
I stayed at my sister's place (thanks Claire for putting up with at two-week house guest!) which is about a 20 minute drive from The Village, the assisted-living community where Dad lives.
Best Selfie Ever!
Claire shot this foto in a mirror, looking back at the mosaic madness. Too cool!!!
I tried to take a different route each day, often stopping to do a little shopping. I had a list of things to bring back for friends and I also found some clothes for myself. I usually go to discount clothing outlets and I'm always amazed by the many different languages I hear spoken around me, both by shoppers and employees. I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the oh-so-many choices, as is often the case when I get to the US. While looking for pita chips to go with the yummy hummus I saw some unexpected new products: southern biscuits and gravy & gyros flavored potato chips!
Claire and I had a fabulous visit to the Mosaic Tile House in Venice. Recommended to me by a friend who'd recently visited there, I was able to take my sister to somewhere she had not yet been in LA! A charmingly quirky couple, Cheri & Gonzalo have effectively covered every surface of their modest home with amazing mosaic art. As Gonzalo explained it, Cheri (a ceramic artist) makes the tiles and he breaks and attaches them. Neighbors have started leaving old mugs and porcelain vases outside of their
Mosaic Tile House
Difficult to capture this amazing place in photos...
gate. I loved the columns with the cup handles scrolling up the side like a spinal column. We spent over an hour oohing and aahhing! Impossible to describe adequately, the attached pictures speak volumes!
I enjoyed going out to great restaurants and movie theaters with my sister & nephew. I had a real LA experience when they took me to see 'Straight Outta Compton' which documents the birth and rise of Gansta Rap & HipHop music. We also saw the newest Steve Jobs documentary - sparked some interesting conversation. Just before traveling to the US I followed someone's facebook post about "man buns". I though I was going to see some nice behinds, but it turns out they were talking about hairstyles. Then I saw men all over LA wearing their hair up -- it's a hip, handsome look! There was one compounding pharmacy that I often drove past which touted 'Andropause' treatments. That was a new one for me!
As is often the case I put on a few pounds during my visit. All eating logic seems to go straight out the window when I travel. Having said that,
On the John
Even the bathroom is filled with mosaic art!
on both Saturdays & Sundays that I was in California I went for long walks with my sister. Twice we circled the Hollywood Reservoir (where the iconic sign sits on the hillside) and we also did an uphill hike at The Tree People and explored the posh neighborhoods around where she lives. It was great to spend time with my sis and catch up on our respective lives. Getting out and walking has me vowing to keep up a walking rhythm and jump-start this middle-aged metabolism. I promise to take my new adopted dog on daily walks!! All too soon I had to pack my bags -- always amazes me how I manage to accumulate exactly the limit of what I can take (two 50 lb checked bags + a carry-on). This time at least half of that weight was made up of things for friends here in Ecuador...among them: two second-hand laptop computers, a motorbike seat, an infocus projector, a car radio, large men's shoes, cosmetics, a sweatsuit, etc.
The trip home was challenging with additional baggage, especially since I had to return the rental car, load the suitcases on their van to the
Sweetie aka CiCi
This is the pup I'm adopting. Annie found her in the park and had her vaccinated and spayed. I can't wait to be a doggy mommy again!!
terminal, and so forth. Thankfully, I had help along the way. The first leg of the trip had us landing in Panama after dark and I loved seeing all the huge ships all lit up. Saw an awesome film in-flight: a Pixar animated film called Inside Out about the workings of a little girl's brain. I can't stop thinking about it. Today I got my truck inspected and registered (a real ordeal!) and delivered the things I brought for everyone here in Quito. Mayra Esther, my goddaughter (she tries to write to me in English and calls me "goodmother"!) met me to pick up the computer along with her siblings & Mom. Her mother was carrying a newspaper and cloth-wrapped tray with a mound of potatoes & a cuy (roasted guinea pig) lying across the top. What an amazing way to show her gratitude for my generosity! So, finally I'm caught up - tonight I'm staying here in Quito with my new pup, CiCi and tomorrow we head to my house in Banos.
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