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Published: July 31st 2016
OK - it's borrowed from the internet but this photo gives you an overview of the exquisite beauty of the place where I live. Nestled between the Andes & the Amazon Basin, Baños has volcanic thermal springs, massive waterfalls, rushing rivers and dramatic gorges.
The past two months I've mostly stayed home in Baños, enjoying the last of the good weather before our rainy winter begins. Miraculously, we still have more sunny days than rainy, but it often pours all night and gets really cold; down into the 30’s (F) a few times! I suddenly found myself with lots of free time -- how to fill my days?
I’ve been going to the thermal baths three times a week, swimming laps and doing the water aerobics exercises I learned from a Dutch physical therapist who was living in Baños. She’s gone now, but I have a photo document to help me remember the moves and I met a German gal who also studied with her, so every Friday Mikaela & I try to do an hour of water aerobics together, reminding each other of how to do each exercise for maximum benefit!
CiCi and I have been taking long walks in the neighborhood and I often bring my camera -- to see the many photos taken on our walks, click on 'next' at the bottom of this post. I marvel daily at the incredible natural
My Entry Gate
This centuries-old avocado tree is visible from miles around as it is the highest point on the finger of land that juts out to form Juive Chico. The first time I saw that bougainvillea spilling over the fence, I knew I could live in this house!
beauty all around me, and that’s why I decided to name entitle this blog entry, Gratitude. I am so grateful for the life I live, where I live it.
I tried mounting an “English for Tourism” class, but after much effort dropping off fliers at travel agencies & hotels only one person showed an interest. A local teacher told me, “Folks here are basically lazy when it comes to studying anything. As for English, they think it will be too hard so they don’t even bother to try.” Not sure if her remark made me feel better or not.
I thought about going around to hotels looking for a job, but every fiber of my being struggled against the idea of a regular weekly schedule with little space for spontaneous travel. In the end, I’ve been managing to make ends meet with occasional private language lessons and driving gigs. I’m also making white bean hummus which is sold at a local gourmet shop...I usually sell enough to cover the cost of the aged cheeses I buy from them.
It does feel good to keep my
Guavas on the Driveway
Dozens fall each night and I play footie billiards with them before I can get into my truck. As I drive off I hear them rolling off the roof and ricocheting around the truck bed. Ah, the 'problems' of living in a fruit-growing zone!
hand in teaching! So far, I’ve helped two teenage girls in my neighborhood prepare for their English exams and both passed with flying colors. They referred me to their two cousins with whom I’ll be working later this week. It will be much more of a challenge since this 8th
grade brother and sister both failed English during the school year and are now preparing for their summer make-up exam. I told them I'd only help them if they put in 1/2 per day of study on their own. We'll see...
For a while now I've been teaching a young guy who manages a pizza parlor in town. He wants to be able to communicate with his customers, many of whom are backpackers. At first we talked about trading pizza for classes, but when he told me he wanted 3 sessions a week, I told him that if I ate his yummy pizza 3x/wk, soon I wouldn't fit through the doorway! Once in a while I accept his scrumptious "Brigniano" pizza (sauteed mushrooms, pesto & aged parmesan on top) but not too often! Still struggling with my weight even though I'm
The original house is almost 100 yrs old. With huge fireplaces and well-worn wood floors visitors feel its warm welcome.
Last month I tutored a young Venezuelan chef named Martin. He’s been working at an elegant Hacienda about 45 minutes drive from Baños, but when I met him he’d just had his first Skype interview with Carnival Cruise Lines. Since they’re a Miami-based American company, all interviews are in English and all prospective crew members must have an adequate level of English. Although Martin didn't feel like he did very well on the first Skype interview, the recruiter was encouraging and sent him a series of possible questions and topics to review before his next one.
So, Martin & I made appointments to practice together. We met at the volunteer library once, then had a long lesson at my house. Martin was successful on his second Skype interview and had one more to go before qualifying for a face-to-face interview in Colombia. He invited me to stay overnight at Hacienda Manteles, booking me an elegant suite and offering me a scrumptious dinner and breakfast. He re-arranged his work schedule so we were able to work together several hours the evening I arrived and all morning the following day.
Fireside English Lessons
Martin reserved me a lovely room in the family cabin, four separate bedrooms, each with a private bath, which share this cozy living room area.
I was staying in the "family cabin"; our lessons were held in the cozy living room area adjacent to my room. It was chilly so we kept a blazing fire going - a perfect teaching/learning setting!
When Martin found out that he'd passed his last Skype interview and was headed to Bogota for the final step, he came over to my house for an afternoon of review and pep talk! Since he doesn't have a credit card, I helped him purchase the online Marlin Test for Cruise Ship Personnel, but I told him I would not take the test with him/for him; that would not be ethical. I did, however, listen in from the next room! He had 30 minutes to complete a series of exercises. On the listening section the speakers had all sorts of non-native English accents; realistic since fellow crew members and passengers alike might be from all corners of the globe. Even I struggled to understand the Middle-Eastern & Indian accented speakers!
Martin told me that he was planning to arrive in Bogota the day before the interview so he could be rested and refreshed. He
Dining Room at the Hacienda
Antique furniture completes the rustic, homey feeling of the place.
had already gone online to see where he could rent a dark suit, complete with white shirt and dress shoes. I offered him a lucky necktie (I have a collection of old silk ties I plan on sewing into a funky skirt someday!) and I gifted him a lucky pen. I reminded him to buy some dark socks and not to drink coffee (he tends to get nervous and stumbles,confusing simple words like 'cut' and 'cook'). I guess I went above and beyond the role of English tutor, but what a sweet young man, all alone in Ecuador! Several days later he contacted me via facebook to let me know that he'd gotten the job! Hooray!
A friend who'd lost her house on the coast in the earthquake decided to move to Cuenca (in the Southern Andes) after spending only a few weeks in Baños. She has an older black lab mix, and she found the street dogs in Baños so aggressive that she was afraid every time she took Gracie for a walk. Her daughter arrived from the US and I drove the three of them (Linda, Hanna & Gracie) and all of their
En route to Cuenca we stopped for Hanna to take a few photos. Just 15 minutes from Baños, I've always marveled at how the hedgerows which separate the fields make the hillside look like a patchwork quilt.
possessions (my truck bed was heaving!) down to Cuenca, a stunning 8 hour drive! After dropping them at their guest house I took the opportunity to pick up more donations. I had made contact with several folks who were leaving Cuenca for good (an Australian couple and a Canadian family) and I'd convinced some garage sale folks to donate their leftovers, so I returned to Baños with my truck just as full as when I'd come down!
Back to the BIB (Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños, our volunteer-run children's library) to sort, organize and price the many new and wonderful donations! Since I've spent a lot more time at the BIB with Jody readying merchandise for the BIB BAZAR (our second-hand fund-raising shop) I've gotten more acquainted with the volunteers. We had a group who stayed for three months so I really got to know them. One day I took a couple of the guys over to my house to gather firewood. My landlord had just limbed the big old avocado trees, so there was a lot of good bonfire fodder. A group of volunteers 'contracted' me to drive them one morning up to the Casa
Glimpse of Chimborazo
The minute you see it, you have to stop for the photo. You might lose it to cloud cover if you wait to go around the next curve.
del Arbol (home of the swing at the end of the world, made famous by the National Geographic instagram photo).
On her last day in Ecuador, 20 yr old Lexie, a sweet volunteer from North Dakota, rode up to Quito with me and Shana. When Lexie had first arrived in Baños, she didn't have enough warm clothes since she was thinking about Ecuador as a tropical place on the equator! She came shopping in the BIB Bazar and went immediately to a long-sleeved plaid blouse that I had just pulled out of my closet and added to the shop. I felt inspired to tell her the story of that blouse which I had bought in 1990 just before setting off on my year-long backpack journey around the world. Since it was Columbia brand, it was of excellent quality and had held up well through the years. In the tradition of my family, I told her to "Wear it in good health" and advised her that THAT blouse had excellent travel juju! The day after dropping Lexie at the airport, I realized that she'd left her high tech water bottle in the back seat of my
Me & Adopted Mom
Mama Juliana, visiting from the coast, finally got to see Quito for her 60th birthday! We spent a wonderful day wandering through parks and around the historic old town.
car. I messaged her to say that I assumed she'd left it by mistake but I'd really enjoy it. "Use it in good health," she replied "it has great travel juju!"
While in Quito I not only completed the assessment of a TESOL Certificate Training Course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), I also picked up more donations, visited with some dear friends and received a visit from my adoptive Mom & Sis. Juliana & Beatriz took the night bus up from the coast so we could spend the day together in the big city. Mama just turned 60 and it was her first time ever in Quito! We wandered through the handicraft market in the El Ejido Park and then roamed the old town streets, starting at the Basilica up on the hill and working our way down past the Plaza de Independencia along the Street of the Siete Cruces (7 crosses - 7 major churches). A highlight of the day for them was when we went into the Hilton Colon to use the lobby restrooms -- they tensed when I told them, just pretend you're a guest here! I confess, I often
CiCi & Bonez adore one another. She's spayed, he neutered - it's platonic canine passion! They're about the same age, but Bonez outweighs CiCi by about 10 kg!
find out where posh hotels have their loo so I can look like I know where I'm headed!
For the past two months CiCi and I have had some roommates - two 2-legged ones and one 4-legged one! Del & Vic and Bonez have been spending 4-5 nights a week at our house while the road to their farm (45 min. E of here) is being paved (with paving stones). They're also working on getting internet out to their finca - so when they're at my place Vic manages to Skype with his business partners in New Orleans and his clients all over the world. Since my house is quite large with a full bathroom on each floor, we've been able to share the space well and I'm grateful for some help paying the rent! The best part of the arrangement has been watching CiCi & Bonez fall in love. They adore each other! Since she is spayed and he is neutered, it's a purely platonic canine affair. They've taken CiCi with them to the farm a few times - she comes back muddy and full of briars but oh so happy.
Lilies in my Garden
The day that I happened upon these magical blooms tucked away in my lush garden was the day I decided to focus on gratitude as the theme of this blog entry.
Del and I alternate taking the dogs on their early morning walk - it's been cold and rainy so it's nice to have a day off now and then. We also take turns cooking up a big batch of dog soup -- the dry dog food here is expensive and not very nutritious. I add grated carrots, zucchini, shredded cabbage, meaty beef bones, chicken innards, oatmeal & barley to make a yummy nutritious meal for the dogs. I make a huge potful and freeze it in portioned containers. Since Bonez is the new kid in town, it's a little intense walking with him past the dozens of untethered neighbor dogs. They know me and CiCi and they're getting to know him, so there's less aggressive barking each time we pass.
CiCi & I have enjoyed sharing our neighborhood walks with Del & Bonez; it's a hilly area so there are houses tucked up on the hillsides, orchards nestled into hollows, driveways filled with wooden boxes of recently harvested tomatoes and always a myriad of clotheslines with green mountainside backdrops. As we follow the gently climbing twisty road we can look back and see
CiCi's Daily Poopie Walk
Just down the hill from where I live is CiCi's poo field, tucked between orchards and farm fields.
how far we've come, my old avocado tree always visible as the tallest point. Just down the hill from my house is a falling-down old mansion, the terracotta roof tiles sagging and the walls crumbling down. Graffiti artists have taken over the interior leaving unsettling drawings & intriguing messages. It's cool to wander through the abandoned rooms, verdant growth pushing in through the empty window and door frames, imagining who might have lived there and who has been there since.
When Bonez goes to the farm and CiCi is left alone here she pines for him, lying in his bed and looking around for him. Last week I had a dog-sitting job for some new friends and CiCi came with me to spend the night at their house. Bonez was missing her, moping around and lying in her bed! These new friends just arrived from Texas and are renting a big house where the last two sets of renters have also been friends of mine. It's nicely furnished, but the sofas are like waiting room furniture - hard wood and straight up and down. So, Carol & Kirk & I went on a mission to
Just below my house this fragrant citrus grove wafts the scent of citronella each time I pass on a CiCi walk.
find comfy sofas (not an easy task here in Ecuador) and we were successful! There's a nearby town called Huambalo that specializes in furniture-making and after looking at dozens of ugly & uncomfortable living room sets, we found a big cushy leatherette sofa and love seat and negotiated down the price to include delivery that same afternoon!
Kirk is an excellent chef and loves cooking for others, so when my neighbor slaughtered her pig (my compost bucket contents had been helping to fatten him up!) she offered me the baby back ribs. I had no idea what to do with them, but Kirk did! We chowed down with a group of friends, enjoying amazing BBQ ribs and my famous homemade coleslaw. Later this week Carol's daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters arrive in Quito so I have the job of meeting them at the airport and driving them down to Baños. While they all head to the jungle for a few days, CiCi and I will go stay with their pets again. Tomorrow I have another trip to Quito to pick up four French volunteers for the BIB, so I'm keeping busy and Scarlett the truck
Old House in the Valley Below
CiCi and I love to take a walk down the hill to visit this crumbling, abandoned hacienda house.
is earning her keep -- payment for these two airport pick-ups will cover her 75,000 km service at the Nissan dealer.
As you can see life is never dull for me. I appreciate and enjoy the variety of activities, meeting new people all the time, and helping others whenever I can. Gratitude extends to some not-so-pleasant encounters as well. I went up to visit the piece of land that I'm considering buying and the vicious dogs at the entry gate were still chained up there. In the past I've talked sweetly to them and they've calmed down enough for me to squeeze past along the muddy path. Well, the path was muddier than usual and I'm convinced that the owner lengthened their chains because the doberman lunged at me and grabbed my left forearm in his powerful jaws. Fortunately for me I was wearing a sweater with the sleeve rolled up and a heavy flannel shirt on top. The shirt sleeve was completely ripped off and the sweater had teeth holes through all four layers, but the wound to my arm was relatively superficial and didn't need stitches. The 4-inch long gash has healed nicely,
Bizarre and a little bit creepy - it's cool how this spray-painted maiden occupies the tiled walls and stretches around the corner.
but I will have a scar forever...not to mention the emotional scars. Now every time a dog barks at me, I feel my blood pressure rise.
If you've been reading my blogs you may remember me mentioning my "claudia" - a plum-sized growth encapsulating my left ovary. It's been almost 2 years since she was first detected and at that time we did blood tests to rule out cancer. Since then I've had a series of regular echo sonograms to monitor any changes. The past six months has shown marked growth and I'm having some discomfort, so the doc and I have decided it's time for her to come out. I'll go in for surgery in Quito the first week in September -- I've only had surgery once before in my life and that was over 30 years ago when I lived in Mexico and had a pylonidal cyst removed. I'll be calling on some friends in Quito to help me during recovery. Since the doctor wants to remove it whole, it will be an open surgery (instead of laparascopy) so I won't be able to drive my stick shift truck for a few weeks.
Twisty Eucalyptus Trunk
This tree is the endpoint (the goal post) for our long downhill walk (uphill heading home!)
I am grateful that I have a doctor whom I trust and excellent insurance that will cover all but about $200 of the procedure.
Enough rambling for this blog entry. Please be sure to click on NEXT to see the photos of my neighborhood. I especially like the series of pics of the old, falling-down house that has been decorated with bizarre graffiti. Thanks for reading! Send me a comment to say HI!
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