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Published: March 4th 2016
Thanks, Julie, for taking care of me while my Mommy was driving down to Vilcabamba!
OK - I know - this time it's been over 2 1/2 months since I last blogged...now what's my excuse? It's hard to type with your fingers on a steering wheel! Here goes with my update of the places I've been and the people I've taken around! I didn't take many photos, but fortunately some of my friends did!
Christmas and New Years were chill - hanging out at home, early to bed & early to rise. CiCi usually wakes me as soon as it gets light (around 6:30) and pesters me for her first morning walk. Since my house is set back behind a big metal gate, I can just slip on clogs and go out with her in my pajamas. There's enough room in the driveway and yard area for a short peepee walk, so then I can have a more leisurely morning before she needs a longer walk.
I no longer let CiCi run loose in the neighborhood since once she fell in with a bad crowd of local doggies and ran all the way down to the main road (over a mile away!) Keeping closer tabs on her
Kermit's Last Stand
I didn't mean to bite off the froggie's head...oh wait, yes I did!
has helped with the constant mud and sticky burrs in her fur. I got a long plastic-covered metal leash (that she can't chew through) and first tried hooking it to my clothesline. There were too many trunks and bushes for her to get tangled up in, so the landlord helped me rig up a wire down the open area of the front garden. Now CiCi has a good amount of free rein to spend time outside without running off. The neighbor dogs come over to play -- when CiCi's hooked up to her run she barks and yips to tell the others it's playtime and they all jostle and tumble on the lush lawn.
My first driving trip was down into the jungle with Suzanne so she could say good-bye to the family who ran the primitve pottery workshops at her place. There was a formal farewell gathering with speeches and gifts and she and I spent the night in the home of one of the daughters. I enjoyed visiting Yaku Runa (Black Water) village and seeing how they live. Since I'd met most of them in Banos at the ceramics classes, I was warmly welcomed and
Welcome to Yaku Runa
When we arrived jungle grapes, papaya slices & guayusa tea were served to us on banana leaves
treated like family as well.
Months ago my friend Leonore had booked me to drive down to Guayaquil (5 1/2 hrs) to meet up with her and her 92 yr old mother. Leonore lives in Quito and her Mom (who still teaches adult education classes in Washington DC!) comes to visit every December. The last few visits Mom had trouble with the altitude (Quito is almost 10,000 ft) so on doctor's orders she now flies into Guayaquil (sea level), spends the night, and then comes up to Banos (less than 4,000 ft). Coincidentally Leonore's friends Julie & George from Vermont were on the same flight as her mom, so we stayed together at my favorite Guayaquil guest house (Tangara). In the morning I drove Julie & George to the bus terminal so they could continue their journey south to Cuenca (I'd be meeting up with them again in a few weeks!) and we three ladies continued on to Banos (6 hrs).
After Leo & Mom spent a few days in Banos acclimatizing, I drove them up to Quito (3 hrs) and took the opportunity to fill my truck with donations for the trip back
Suzanne and the kids
Such beautiful indigenous children
down to Banos. I made another Quito trip a few weeks later to assess a TESOL Certificate Training Course (for English teachers) and again collected donated items for the volunteer children's library's fund-raising garage sale.
In January I took a longer driving trip with Suzanne all the way to Loja, Ecuador's southernmost province. Since I was gone for a whole week I left CiCi in the loving care of dear friend Julie who stayed at my house with her. Every evening when CiCi got riled up (crazy hour!) Julie would play fetch with her, tossing one of her stuffed animals over and and over. Now I have to keep up with the game-playing tradition! Sometimes CiCi gets so wound up that I have to lie on the floor and cuddle with her until she calms down. I wonder how long she'll keep up this puppy behavior - she's over a year and a half old now!
So, with my truck loaded to the gills with Suzanne's belongings we set off for Vilcabamba. It's too far to drive in one day (over 12 hrs) so we spent the night at my friends' place in the
Suzanne & Tamasine
The ladies who worked hard to help this community develop tourism drawing on their traditional pottery techniques
Yunguilla Valley. Santuario Hibiscus is a wonderful retreat, owned by Fran & Dan - a couple whom I met years ago when they took a look at my property on the coast. They decided instead to buy and renovate a gorgeous colonial house an hour from Cuenca. The visit was way too short since we had to leave early the next morning.
Suzanne & I arrived just in time for a special birthday dinner to honor Jessica, another Banos friend who has moved to Vilcabamba. I spent the first night at Jessie's neighbor's place and then moved over to Madre Tierra, the hotel where I worked several years ago. It was wonderful to reconnect with the staff, all of whom welcomed me warmly. Over the next several days Suzanne & I did lots of asking around and driving around until we found a great little house by the river for her to rent. It was interesting to look at a dozen or so different properties, kissing a lot of frogs before we found her prince. I had a chance to meet up with other Vilca friends for breakfast and dinner at the yummy Madre Tierra restaurant. On
She is truly a Sinchi Warmi - a valiant woman with force, confidence and grace.
my last morning there I ended up having breakfast with a couple from Washington State -- it turned out that the woman was best friends with the mother of a former student of mine from 1992 when I taught in Malaysia! It's a small world, or as we say in Spanish, "El mundo es un panuelo" (the world is a handkerchief!)
I headed back north alone (audio book for company) and stayed two nights in Cuenca with Leonore's friends Julie & George. Every winter they rent a top floor apartment for a few months...stunning views of Cuenca colonial old town. They had found a secure parking lot 1/2 block away which was important since I would again be collecting donations. We could actually see my truck from their front window! I drove around picking up donations from 8 different locations; quite a challenge since Cuenca is full of one-way streets and construction detours! Interesting to meet the expats who donated and glimpse how various North Americans choose to live their retirement years in Ecuador. The morning I left to return to Banos I was invited to breakfast at the home of a couple who was donating for
Elsa's gift to Suzanne
A beatifully crafted ash-fired Kallyana cooking vessel
the 3rd or 4th time -- nice folks!
A French-Canadian family (mom, dad & 3 kids) visiting Banos contracted me for two days - to take them down the Ruta de las Cascadas (the Waterfall Route) and then down to Puyo, a large-ish market city on the edge of the Amazon Basin. It's been years since I've spent full days speaking French (my brain hurt a little, especially tuning into the Canadian accent). I also got a few paid driving jobs dropping off & picking up relatives of Banos friends at the Quito airport, now just under 3 hours from Banos. Last year a bypass road was completed, eliminating the slow-down of traffic in two towns along the way and reducing the drive by 30-40 minutes. I enjoy the views along the Panamerican Highway, up the Avenue of the Volcanoes. On a clear day I can spot 5 or 6 snow-capped peaks!
I was finally able to hold still in Banos for a full week to oversee preparations for the Giant Garage Sale. Several times a year we hold a big sale and the proceeds go towards the operating costs of our volunteer children's
Ready to Receive Buyers
Everything displayed neatly,,,but not for long!
library. Over 7 years ago, Jody came up with the concept for the BIB (Biblioteca Interactiva de Banos) and the idea for a fund-raising garage sale. She left Banos 5 years ago, living first near the jungle and then on the coast seeking lower altitude better for her blood pressure. Her health is better now and she and her hubby Bobby have decided to move back to Banos, so Jody & I have started working together. Seeing how many new and almost new items there were among the donations, we decided to open a 2nd hand shop. While sorting through stuff for the garage sale, we culled the highest quality clothing, shoes, & household goods for the BIB Bazar (aka Be Bizarre!)
The Garage Sale was a huge success. Local Banenos have learned that they can find unusual things and score great bargains at the BIB Sales. As in the past, there were over 40 people waiting eagerly outside the gate when we opened at 9 am. By noon we had earned over $1000!! Marshia & I are the cashiers, each of us with a helper to bag so we can zip through the long lines of
Stampede of Shoppers
Let the games begin! Scores of eager buys jostle for the best items
buyers at the checkout. It's a bit like running a race, and then a huge sigh of relief as the crowds thin and the sales slow down. The library volunteers (a Canadian, an American, a Ugandan woman who's been working in Cambodia, a Spaniard and an Argentine) all pitched in with sorting, checking electronics to see if they worked, setting up tables, folding clothes, selling, thwarting shoplifters & finally packing up and cleaning up. Thanks so much to everyone who helped out!
The grand opening of the BIB Bazar was set for 2 weeks after the garage sale, so Jody & I had a lot of work to do pricing, mending, cleaning & ironing (thanks Julie!). It was fun to decide how to set up and display the goods, transforming a former classroom into a Thrift Shop. We decided to open the shop only on Saturdays and Sundays and our first weekend we earned even more than we had on Garage Sale Day! At the Bazar most clothing was priced $4-$12 and hung neatly on racks as opposed to the stacks and piles on tables at the garage sale for $1 an item. On the first day
BIB Bazar Thrift Shop
Gearing up for the grand opening of the newest fund-raising venture at the BIB (Biblioteca Interactiva de Banos) BIB Bazar = Be Bizarre
of the Bazar, we sold more than half the shoes we had, so Jody and I realized that we'll soon have to make another donation run (we're headed back to Cuenca next week! Bored retirees go crazy with the catalog shopping and when things don't fit they just donate them to us!
I know you're all waiting with bated breath to hear the latest installment of my foot injury. Healing progress seems to have halted -- the wound site is still tender and purple and the only closed shoes that I can comfortably wear are the New Balance trainers that I cut open on the side. All of my socks have a seam at that spot, and all of my shoes have stitching or a strap right there. Where the stitches healed, a bony bump has formed -- a function of my elevated uric acid. I'm still avoiding red meat, shellfish and fried food and am once again taking allopurinol (gout medication). One doctor I saw in Quito suggested that I treat it as a skin ulcer and I bought some expensive duoderm patches. After two weeks of the patch treatment and no real improvement, I feel
Classroom becomes Thrift Shop
Almost ready for customers...
like I finally have to accept that this may be as good as it gets. I'll be shopping for diabetic socks and no-rub shoes when I head to the US in a few weeks!
I do have one presentable pair of shoes that I was able to wear when I did my educational assessment in Quito. While Jody and I were sorting for the Bazar, I arrived one day to find a pair of soft black quilted slip-on Skechers on the sorting table. "Did you put these here?" I asked her. "No," she replied "I thought you did." So, I tried them on and they fit perfectly with no pressure or rubbing! The shoe gods were watching over me! The only downside to these new shoes is that I can't walk CiCi in the driveway when I'm wearing them -- the deeply ribbed rubber soles get studded with gravel!
I'll finish out this blog entry with the story of a most joyous birthday visit! I met Rob over 40 years ago when we were in High School; my senior year at Wm Fremd HS in Palatine, Illinois he was my date for the homecoming
Jill & Rob
Ash Wednesday in Iguana Park, Guayaquil
dance! We have kept in touch over the years, following one another's trajectory through life. Many friends promise that they're planning to visit me in Ecuador, very few actually do. Well, Rob & his husband Chris (whom I'd only met a few times before) came down for 5 days in Galapagos, then 5 days with me!
When they returned from the Galapagos Islands I met up with them at the Hampton Inn in Guayaquil. After my 5 1/2 hr solo drive, I had a few hours to relax on the luxurious king-sized bed in the room they'd reserved for me. They arrived just before sunset and we set off on a walking tour of the tourist district of Guayaquil. First we went to Iguana Park, a lush plaza in front of an imposing church. It was Ash Wednesday so everyone was emerging with an ashy cross on their foreheads. In the fading daylight, we looked up to see the silhouettes of dozens of iguanas (3 & 4 feet long!) draped on the branches of a sprawling tree. Careful not to gape with your mouth open as you look upward!!
We continued our walk on
Under the Banyan Tree
Chris & Jill pose at Iguana Park in Guayaquil
the Malecon 2000 - Guayaquil's spectacular waterfront walkway. Just as setting sun reflected in the slow-moving estuary waters, we stopped for cocktails at a rooftop bar called Resaca (hangover). In the dying light we caught a glimpse of a rainbow that appeared to rise up from a crane at a waterfront construction site. As night fell, we caught a cab out to Samborondon (a fancy neighborhood on a spit of land that reaches out into the broad estuary) and we had dinner at the newly opened Swiss Bistro restaurant. My good friend Patrick is the owner of Swiss Bistro in Banos, and has also opened La Finca de la Vaca on the road down to the jungle. He's now decided to give the wealthy Guayaquil clientele a try. We had a lovely dinner, sharing a delicious Camembert fondue with apples. Rob & Chris liked it so much, the next night we dined at Swiss Bistro in Banos!
The drive from Guayaquil took us through miles and miles of banana plantations, then up and over the Andes. Along the way we stopped for Ecuadorian fast food (fritada - pork chunks fried in a big copper wok) and red
Malecon Waterfront Walkway
Sunset with Rob & Chris our first night together in Guayaquil
bananas purchased at my favorite stall in Panza Redonda (which round belly) located on a broad curve in the highway. Conveniently, they have a most unique restroom overlooking the river! They enjoyed observing rural small-town Ecuadorian life as we drove the secondary roads. As we approached Banos we had some nice views of the backside of Tungurahua volcano peeking out from between the clouds.
Arriving at my house, Rob & Chris settled into the guest room and then we went to pick up CiCi who had been staying at Shana's. We invited Shana to join us for dinner that night for fondue again but first we took the guys over to see the BIB (the volunteer children's library where I often work). Rob & Chris had made a generous donation to the Bibioteca's "Go Fund Me" campaign and enjoyed seeing the special place they'd helped to support.
The next day we drove down the Ruta de las Cascadas (Waterfall Route), stopping to peer into some dramatic gorges and to hike El Pailon del Diablo (the Devil's cauldron falls). Since Chris is not fond of heights, he didn't join us for all of our adventures.
Pit stop en route from Guayaquil to Banos
His reticence made me aware just how many of the spectacular sight-seeing spots along the way involve peering over steep rock ledges, crossing suspension bridges, swaying cable car tramways, etc. We stopped for photos where the Pastaza River widens and it really feels like you're entering the Amazon Basin.
Continuing on to the caverns at Casa del Arbol, we paused to watch the workers on the tea plantation carrying huge baskets on their backs. They hand pick just the bright green leaves on the top of each bush. We arrived at Casa del Arbol just as it began pouring, so we ducked into the darkened restaurant area and spread out our picnic of goodies (hummus, guacamole, crackers, veggies, fruit,etc). The sound of pelting rain on the tin roof was exciting and energizing. The downpour slowed and we used flashlights and headlamps and smartphone lanterns to navigate the underground mosaic caverns. It really is a shame that the owner/creator Jaime doesn't manage to change light bulbs so that visitors can fully appreciate the beauty of all the work he put into the gorgeous mosaic spa (sauna, steam, jacuzzi, showers, massage tables, etc.)
On to Puyo
Pre-Birthday Dinner in Banos
Sharing yummy Italian food with 8 dear friends. So glad that Rob & Chris got to meet my local amigos.
for a quick glimpse of the jungle and some shopping! La Casa de la Balsa, located upstairs from a balsa wood carving/painting workshop, has gift options for everyone! Rob & Chris wanted to buy something for me so I chose an embroidered blouse that I work the next night at my pre-birthday dinner. We spent some time strolling the Puyo River Walk, stopping for a snack at my favorite restaurant at El Jardin. On the drive back up from the jungle, we caught a brief glimpse of Tungurahua Volcano's summit. We fixed dinner at home and relaxed, sharing photos and stories.
The following day after the guys took CiCi for a long walk and explored my neighborhood, we drove up to the piece of land that I'm considering purchasing. Since Rob & Chris work in Real Estate, it was especially interested to hear their impressions and receive their input. They wandered around Banos while I played some Scrabble with Shana that afternoon, then we all met up for dinner with a few other friends at a fabulous new Italian restaurant. Shana had baked my favorite carrot cake, which we brought with to enjoy after the meal. We
My Bottle Mobile
Post party after the pre-birthday dinner at Shana's house -- she made me a plumeria crown (which I forgot to wear to dinner) and this cool mobile!
had an early meal since there was a magician performing at the BIB that night, and Karl & Jody had to leave early. It was so lovely to share with a fantastic group of friends. I'm so glad that Rob & Chris got to meet them all and have a peek at my life here.
We reluctantly left Banos on Valentine's Day morning, stopping in the indigenous town of Salasaka for a shopping spree of wool weavings and rugs. I'd found an expandable suitcase among the garage sale donations and the guys felt obliged to fill it with Ecuadorian handicrafts to take back! We continued up to Quito for their last night in Ecuador. Since Chris is a frequent business traveler he used his mega-point status to book lodging at the JW Marriott... Jr. Executive Suites! (my bathroom was larger than most New York apartments!) It was bright and sunny when we got there so we lunched poolside and took a dip in the lagoon-like swimming pool, pausing for a back massage under the waterfalls! Gorgeous!! I commented that they'd had a taste of the culture where I live, and now I got to sample their luxury
The boys went shopping in a big way to fill an expandable back they inherited from the garage sale!
business travel culture for a night!
We spent the afternoon wandering around the old town. Quito's historic center was declared the first UNESCO world heritage site over 30 years ago, and they've continued to restore, renovate and make it a safe and beautiful place for visitors. We peeked into churches, shops, courtyards and watched some clown street performers in the main square (I actually preferred observing the people who were watching the slapstick clowning). Just before nightfall we went to a rooftop restaurant and enjoyed a very leisurely dinner, ordering one course at a time as we watched the sky darken and the old town church steeples & plazas light up.
After a luxurious executive lounge buffet breakfast (my birthday morning!), it was time to head down to the airport, now located in the valleys below Quito. Since we had plenty of time, I took the back roads and scenic routes to show them as much of the city as possible before they left. Before saying good-bye we lunched on the outdoor terrace of the airport food court and they indulged my request for sushi (something I don't often get to eat here in
Rooftop Dinner Views
Sunset dining at Vista Hermosa, watching the old town light up
Ecuador!) I had such a wonderful visit with these dear friend -- thanks, Rob for the great photos! Please be sure to scroll all the way down at the end to see some more pictures that didn't fit into the written part of this blog.
Stay tuned for my next blog which will tell about how I ended up scoring a free visit to a famous birding lodge, posing as a "secret shopper" to give the owner a glimpse of how his place runs when he's not there....and now it looks like it will turn into a new hotel-sitting job! Also coming soon, my trip to the US to gather with all my siblings for my Dad's 90th birthday. Thanks for reading!
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