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August 7th 2015
Published: August 10th 2015
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a living roofa living roofa living roof

Nice to get out and hike a bit in Banos during the infrequent breaks in the rain
First off, apologies to those of you who checked in after receiving multiple blog publication notifications, only to find repeats from last spring & summer! There was a problem with saving my previous blog entries so I had to republish them all, which I realized later automatically sent emails to all my subscribers. Oops!

During the past month I've had visits from four (4!) old friends from Atlanta and several new friends as well! Caroline & Brigitte arrived at Quito airport the same day as the Pope. I was worried this might be a problem...and it was! Roads were closed and the street corners were teeming with rent-a-cops who told me where to go, but didn't really know. I had to backtrack and criss-cross the city. It took me 5 1/2 hours for what usually takes 3 hrs! The good thing was that I had picked up an Italian couple hitchhiking with their big backpacks at the toll booth - they kept me company and kept me calm(ish). As a result of the multiple road closures they were treated to a full tour of the city and the last detour routed us right near where they had couch-surfing lodgings for
les trois mousquetairesles trois mousquetairesles trois mousquetaires

Two French friends, Caroline & Brigitte came to visit. Caro was my yoga teacher in Atlanta and also a colleague at the Int'l School.
the night.

Fortunately I'd left home with plenty of time to spare so I arrived at the airport just 5 minutes before Caro came thru the international arrivals chute. Whew! There was still a bit of daylight when we set off up the mountains for Papallacta hot springs, however night falls quickly in the Andes (like switching off a light) and the last half hour of our drive up to the high parramo was in complete darkness with misty clouds to boot. I stayed behind a truck, assuming that he knew where the road went, but he turned off at his home just before a patch of nasty construction. Unable to see at all what was coming up ahead I pulled off and waited for another vehicle to follow. I sure was glad to finally arrive at our hotel; soak in a hot bath while watching the flames in the fireplace in our room.

We had a wonderful evening and morning at the hot springs, luxuriating in the steamy waters amidst lush gardens alongside a rushing river. Alas, I slipped and fell as I was entering the very first pool, but fortunately didn't hurt myself. As I lay in the most natural rock pool, floating on my back with my eyes closed I became aware of wormlike threads and dots floating around my left eyelid. During the 4 hours on the road to Banos I felt fine to drive but still saw floaties in my line of sight. That evening when we went for dinner I thought there were drops falling from the ceiling - it took me awhile to realize that I was experiencing flashes of light in the periphery of my vision.

So, with growing concern about my eyesight I went on the internet to check out these symptoms -- WebMD is a blessing and a curse. I was experiencing the exact symptoms of a torn retina which can occur after a jolt or an accident. I thought about my fall in at the hot springs. I read that if not treated in 24 to 72 hours, the retina can become fully detached possibly causing a loss of sight. Oh no! Now I was in a panic. There's no ophthalmologist in Banos so I made an appointment for the next morning in Ambato and hired a taxi to take me the hour drive and wait
sunny showersunny showersunny shower

In the guest cottage at Andy & Michelle's in Chugchilan. Comfy & gorgeous!
for me, since I was sure my eyes would be dilated. Dr Larco (a retired doctor in his 70's with equipment even older) did a thorough exam and assured me there was no sign of tearing of the retina. He gave me some lubricating drops, a bill for $50, and approval to continue my driving trip with the gals. He did recommend, however, that I see a retina specialist in Quito the following week.

Now that I had assurance it was safe for me to drive we continued our travels. After a day trip to Puyo via La Ruta de las Cascadas (the waterfalls were absolutely gushing after weeks of heavy rains), we set off for the Andes. We stopped at Pujili market, a fascinating gathering of indigenous dress and food. Then we visited the artisan shops in Tigua, famous for “art naïf” style paintings on goat skin canvas. Up at the rim of Quilotoa crater it was just as cold and windy as I remembered. The gals hiked down into the crater while I huddled in the truck and listened to an audio book.

The road from Quilotoa to Chugchilan is now totally paved and we made
cheese makingcheese makingcheese making

yummy fresh cheese - amazing how those curds unite to form fresh mozzarella and a few months later, aged Tilsit
it to Black Sheep Inn in record time! I enjoyed spending some time with the owners, Andy & Michelle while the gals went hiking. I was using my eye as an excuse to avoid any extra strain (like an uphill climb at high altitude). I had been invited to stay in A&M's guest cottage, a lovely little house with amazing bottle walls and a mosaic shower. My creative juices were flowing as I dreamt about the artistic touches I hope to build into a house of my own in the not too distant future! We drove up to the artisan cheese factory and observed a process that I find nothing short of miraculous (not to mention delicious!).

The road from Chugchilan back down to Sigchos has not yet been paved and we had to wait several times for heavy machinery to smooth down the roadway so we could pass. We made it to Quito in time to check in at the hostel before I left for Dean & Debbie Rule's house. They were hosting a gathering in honor of their daughter's marriage. The wedding was held last fall in the US, but now they invited Quito friends to celebrate
building the road for usbuilding the road for usbuilding the road for us

Leaving Chugchilan we had to wait for the next stretch of road to be completed before we could continue our travels.
with a delightful luncheon. I was seated beside their neighbors, a retired police chief and his charming wife. Dean and I started teaching at Colegio Americano de Quito the same year (1988) and they have stayed all this time, raising their three lovely daughters in Ecuador. While I was at the luncheon Caro & Brigitte were touring Quito's Historic Center which was named UNESCO's first World Heritage Site back in the early 80's. We all met up for dinner at Cafe Mosaico and sat on a gorgeous terrace overlooking the old town, just as the lights of the churches and plazas were coming on. Magical!!

The next morning I sent the gals off to explore more of Quito while I went to see the eye specialist. Since both speak some Spanish it wasn't necessary for me to accompany them at all times. The doctor's office was conveniently located right beside the Nissan dealer, so I was able to drop my truck for its 50,000 km check-up. Scarlett was at the car doctor while I went the eye doctor. My dear friend Michelle met me at the ophthalmologist's office and then drove me back to her house in the valley
Father of the BrideFather of the BrideFather of the Bride

A lovely afternoon at the home of Dean & Debbie Rule, friends since '88 when we all first arrived in Ecuador. Their daughter was married in the US last fall; this luncheon was to celebrate with Quito friends.
below so I could nap and keep my eyes closed while the dilation was wearing off. Then she drove me back up to get my truck in the afternoon.

This eye doc confirmed that there is no damage to the retina and explained that my floaties were caused by a pulling away of the vitreous gel at the back of the eye. What I was experiencing as dots and squiggles were actually bubbles and folds in the layer of gel. He gave me anti-inflammatory drops to use for five days, warning me that though I might see some improvement, I might not and this is a condition I'd have to get used to and learn to live with. It's like looking through dirty glasses, except the spots move around.

Before leaving Quito I took the opportunity to pick up some donations for our next fund-raising garage sale. The boxes and bags I collected had to travel on with me and Caro for the next week. We dropped Brigitte at the airport (she only had a week off from her job at the Alliance Francaise in Atlanta) and Caro & I spent the night at a hostel near the
Cowgirls at La RondaCowgirls at La RondaCowgirls at La Ronda

While I was at the wedding luncheon, the Frenchies explored Quito's historic old town district and bought new hats.
airport so we could get an early morning start for our long drive down to the coast the next day. Angela, who bought my cabanas but only comes down a few times a year, offered for us to stay there for free! I slept in my old cabana and Caro had a cottage of her own. I'm constantly amazed at all the changes and upgrades that A & Mark have made in the cluster of huts that was once known as the Santa Rosa section of Alandaluz. Since the chikungunya virus scare was still in full swing we were being extra careful about mosquitoes. I freaked out a little because I kept thinking that the floating dots in my eye were insects buzzing around me!

We stayed for three nights in the cabanas, giving Caro a chance to visit Isla de la Plata (poor man's Galapagos) one day while I caught up with old friends in the area. She was also able to take and teach yoga classes at Otra Ola, where I've been practicing yoga each time I'm working on the coast. Vanessa was happy to turn over a class to Caro; a great opportunity for Vane to
yoga at the beachyoga at the beachyoga at the beach

Caroline taught one day at Otra Ola and Vanessa had the luxury of taking the class.
actually participate in a way that she can't when she's teaching. Caro and I drove down to Montanita one day, exploring the coastline south of Ayampe and we also spent a morning at the Agua Blanca lagoon, one of my favorite swimming spots anywhere! It's so interesting - now that I know that it's just bubbles in the vitreous gel, I'm aware of the visual distortion in a new way. When I'm wearing goggles and have my eyes open underwater, through my left eye I see what looks like a flow of lava with debris suspended in it. I have gotten used to this eye condition and now only become briefly aware of the imperfections a few times a day.

When we went to Hosteria Mandala I stayed in the owners' house and Caro shared a room with Pauley, a former Atlanta student who met up with us in Puerto Lopez. We took a nice hike at Playa de los Frailes in the Parque Nacional Machalilla and enjoyed the delicious food at Mandala's restaurant. It's such a treat for me to be a guest since I'm always working when I'm there. Pauley & Caro did some sightseeing on their
Tarabita near MindoTarabita near MindoTarabita near Mindo

Pauley & Caro on the cable car tramway over a deep gorge -- breathtaking is the only word to describe the experience!
own, giving me a break from being tour guide! After a too-short stay at Mandala we got an early morning start to drive north up the coast and back over the Andes.

In Mindo we found adorable garden cabanas for $10 a night. There are so many lodging options there that it drives down the prices. We enjoyed dramatic scenery from the cable car tramway (easier than hiking up & down!). Again I was able to kick back and relax while Pauley & Caro did the chocolate tour and visited the butterfly park, both places that I've been to numerous times!

The next stop was Cheryl's coffee farm near Nanegalito. Caro has talked about planning a yoga retreat in Ecuador so I introduced her to Cheryl who has hosted several conferences and is currently building a retreat center on a corner of her farm named Above the Clouds. While at Cheryl's we met some visitors that she had staying with her. Julie & Stewart were especially interested to hear about the volunteer library in Banos and the following week they came to Banos and stayed a night at my house so they could visit (and make a generous
displaying mosaicdisplaying mosaicdisplaying mosaic

Fun to take my visitors to visit one of my fave places in Banos, the Volunteer Children's Library (Biblioteca Interactiva de Banos or BIB)
donation) to the Biblioteca.

Our last night together we stayed with my friends Margarita & Polo at their nature reserve, Intillacta. They offered me the small guest house they'd built for Polo's elderly aunt (she passed away after living there only a month) and the girls stayed in the big lodge up the hill. We shared a delicious dinner of quinoa soup in front of the fireplace at M&P's house and a lavish breakfast at their place before hitting the road again. We had to get Caro to the airport by noon, and I dropped Pauley in the city on my way to pick up one more load of donations.

Ah! Heading back down to Banos ALONE....but not for long. Two days later Julie & Stewart arrived and although it was a quick visit, it was complicated by the fact that we were without water. The heavy rains had damaged pipes up in the hills and although my landlord has a cistern and pump, we used that water sparingly since we didn't know how long it would need to last. I barely had time to change the sheets before Amy showed up.

Amy is the daughter of
Intrepid AdventurerIntrepid AdventurerIntrepid Adventurer

Amy tried nearly all the extreme sports. Look at the sign - there was no more room in the zoo so the new lion couple has its habitat above the aquarium!
a former teaching colleague and she reminds me of myself 20 years ago! She's a Spanish & French teacher and had just completed a volunteer month of teaching English in a rural Ecuadorian village. Amy knew that I'd just hosted a slew of visitors and assured me that I needn't entertain her, so I sent her off on her own to do some adrenalin sports (zip-lining and bridge jumping). While she was in full adventure mode, I snuck over to Shana's house for a few hours of Scrabble. Amy & I went to the spa to enjoy the steam box treatment and our visit to the Sunday market was epic! Amy's love of adventure extends to trying unusual foods, so we did - everywhere we went.

Amy is an avid photographer, so many of the photos in this part of the blog are thanks to her-especially since I dropped my camera at the market and the lens cover broke off. The camera still works, but it's a bit delicate for carrying around. Also thanks to Brigitte & Caro for passing along their photos before they left. It was fun to glimpse our journey through their eyes. Digital photography makes
monks on a trailmonks on a trailmonks on a trail

We met these Brazilian monks hiking to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall in Rio Verde
sharing so much easier!

After a few days in Banos, Amy and I headed down to the Amazon Basin. My original plan had been to go to the jungle with my French friends, but at that time there were so many road closures due to mudslides that we shuffled our itinerary to go up high in the Andes. Nonetheless, both of them had brought art materials to donate to my friend's foundation near Tena in the jungle. In addition, I had bought some paints and brushes in Banos for her, so I decided to go along with Amy so I could deliver the teaching supplies to Christina's school for children (and adults) with special needs. The school is called Jatun Yacu which means big water in Kichwa.

On the way down to the jungle we had plenty of adventures -- fortunately not too many of them dealing with mudslides! The few times we had to wait for debris to be cleared were blessedly brief. One hairy turnaround on a narrow stone road, discovering it was blocked and deciding that the 12 point turn was preferable to the curvy, steep back-up. The waterfalls were simply gushing with joy, and
Flying over WaterfallsFlying over WaterfallsFlying over Waterfalls

Exhilarating ride on the tarabita tramway as Agoyan Falls came crashing down from both sides!
so were we! Flying over river gorges on tramways, meeting monks on our hike, getting soaked in the spray of the falls-we both commented that it felt like we were in some TV movie! New falls were springing from the hillsides at every turn. I enjoyed visiting some new places and revisiting other sites with a new perspective, sharing Amy's enthusiasm and joie de vivre!

I had been hearing about a community tourism project near Misahualli called Sinchi Warmi (valiant women), so I reserved a room for us there. A group of Kichwa women run a hostel and restaurant. I have learned a fair bit of Kichwa working in the Andea village of Malingua Pamba, but the same language has a very different pronunciation in the Amazon. You may have seen the name of the language (and the indigenous group) written as Quichua or Quechua, which is the Castillian Spanish spelling. In the past decade Ecuador's Kichwas have pushed for spelling reform, making ample use of the letters K & W which only exist only in borrowed words in Castellano (i.e. kilo & wisky).

It was easy to deliver the art supplies to Christina because she rents a
Array of WaterfallsArray of WaterfallsArray of Waterfalls

Thanks for putting this together, Amy. I visited these falls along the Ruta de las Cascadas three (3!) times in just over a month!
house at Sinchi Warmi! Since I had already been to the school at Jatun Yacu (and it's over an hour away, the 2nd half on a bumpy road) I sent Amy along with Christina while I stayed in town to visit with a friend. Donna has been building a house and it's been fun to see its slow but steady progress. When Amy got back from Jatun Yacu, she and I explored Misahualli with Donna, enjoying a progressive dinner at all three of the restaurants on the square. We watched the monkeys clowning around in the park, chasing one another up signposts and across rooftops and stealing food from unsuspecting tourists. The town is famous for its wild but tame monkey family, about 30 in all.

I drove Amy to Tena and we said our farewells as she was planning to spend a few more days in the jungle. I'd heard about a big mudslide and was hoping I'd make it back to Banos without a problem. When I expressed my concern to a shopkeeper he offered, "I'll rent you half of my bed!" Alas, that's the best offer I've had in years, and his wife was standing right
where the sidewalk ends...where the sidewalk ends...where the sidewalk ends...

Overlook as the Pastaza River widens out, signalling the start of the Amazon Basin. The asphalt broke off the edge during a mudslide.
beside him chuckling! Well, I did make it back to Banos just in time to get my house ready for the next set of visitors. Pat, her boyfriend Jorge and her grandson Jeremy drove up from the coast. They'd been planning to come up for my Bday but had gotten sick at the last minute. It was fun to have them here, and of course we had to visit all of the waterfalls again!

Well, I'd better get this published before the next set of visitors arrives - Andy & Michelle from Chugchilan, their niece and their dog will be staying for three nights. Much as I love to receive guests in my home, I'll be glad to have a few days of alone time before I leave for Quito and then the US later this month. Thanks for reading!

Please note: This blog entry includes a total of 31 photos - please scroll down to see others and hit the NEXT button to see even more pix!


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What possessed me to put my face behind a stinky, bloody pig head at Pujili market?


19th August 2015

Wowza!
What an action packed "summer!" You know this country so well; and so many people benefit from your knowledge, me included! Wonderfully visual feast!

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