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Published: March 8th 2019
Happy Birthday to ME!
That's Walt, the trumpet player foto bombing my bday bundt cake pose!
As I write this blog entry I'm recovering from cataract surgery (right eye), staying with friends near Quito. I am trying to limit my screen time to rest my eye which is my way of telling you that this entry is likely to be more photos than text so be sure to scroll all the way to the end for a more in-depth pictoral tour. Fortunately, I had chosen, edited and uploaded the photos for this entry before the operation. If you are on facebook you will likely have seen many of these pics already, but now you'll get the full scoop! Today is day six sans cataract but I still have some inflammation -- the effect is like watching a 3D movie without the special glasses...hyper-real! I'm hoping to be given the all-clear to drive back to Baños tomorrow.
After an excellent pre-birthday dinner with friends in Baños I drove up to Quito for a celebration with more friends on the evening of my actual bday then staying overnight with my dear friend Margarita who will soon turn 91 !!. The next day, following an
Celebrating with friends between the ages of 3 and 90! Such a lovely group of amigos who live in the valleys below Quito.
early morning eye doctor appointment I headed to the airport to meet my niece, Tovah and her boyfriend Max. Both hail from New Jersey, neither of them has done much travelling and I'd been carefully planning an itinerary that would absolutely blow their minds! I haven't really spent much time with my niece during her adult years (she and bf are both mid-20's), so this trip was a wonderful chance for us to get to know one another!
They arrived midday so we checked into the hostel in Quito, parked my truck there and took a taxi to the Old Town. In 1978 Quito's colonial historic center was declared one of UNESCO's first World Heritage Sites. We had sunny blue skies (a welcome change from the cold NJ weather they´d just left), We visited gorgeous colonial churches, wandered through beautifully restored artisan districts, and snacked our way through the old town. So many beloved city scenes sparkled with new beauty and wonder for me as I saw it all through their eyes!
Quito's Historic Center
Max and Tovah's first afternoon in Ecuador - exploring the old town.
Just before dusk we settled on the terrace of Café Mosaico for a delicious meal overlooking the clay tile rooftops of historic Quito. The kids were dazzled by their first afternoon in Ecuador and the stage was set for our many upcoming adventures! The next day dawned bright and clear, perfect weather to ride Quito's skyway tram to the top of Mt. Pichincha. It had been years since I'd flown up the mountainside via Teleferiqo; the views of the snow-capped Avenue of the Volcanoes was even more spectacular than I remembered - most likely because I was now experiencing it alongside these spirited young folks! Up at the top was watched as mountain bikers set off on a steep and winding trail, hurling themselves onto the treacherous track. After we descended in the tramway, we saw them at the bottom loading up their bikes for another run down the slopes.
We said good-bye to Quito and headed south on the Panamerican highway for an hour or so. I Lasso we stopped for Chugchucaras, a traditional meal of roasted pork chunks served with three
Cafe Mosaico at Sunset
Overlooking the old town rooftops and church towers, enjoy dinner on the terrace at the city lights up.
kinds of corn (popcorn, corn nuts, boiled hominy), plus fried potatoes and plantains. Greasy, heavy, delicious food! Clear skies followed us as we turned off the highway and onto steep, winding roads for the next two hours. Our destination, Black Sheep Inn, is perched high on an Andean plateau in the village of Chugchilán. While Tovah and Max settled into the bunkhouse attic room and wandered to grounds, I caught up with my dear friends Andy and Michelle, owners of this magical place.
Nightime comes quickly high in the Andes, between 6:20 and 6:30 pm it's like turning off a light switch! We gathered in the dining room for a family style dinner meeting other travellers who had discovered this magical spot including a young Belgian woman who is living in Guayaquil while managing logistics for a dredging project to open estuary access, four middle-aged Norwegians cruising the country via motorcycle (my friend Jean manages the itineraries for these Freedom Bikes clients), some North American bird-watchers. After breakfast we took Scarlett the truck up behind the Inn, leaving the asphalt for a bumpy,
Fresh, soft rods of mozzarella recently fished out from a month of soaking in a salt brine.
harrowing drive to the cheese factory. Since it was still early morning, production was not yet in full swing; local farmers were arriving via burro or motorbike balancing their buckets and barrels full of fresh milk, watching carefully as it was weighed and measured; waiting expectantly in line for the 40 cents per litre they were to be paid. We bounced over the parramo on a barely discernable mud track to get back down to the Inn.
We took our packed lunch, said good-bye and headed to Quilotoa crater, a breathtaking collapsed caldera in the midst of dramatic Andean peaks. The kids hiked part way down to the crate while I hung out at the rim, trying to catch my breath at 12,600 feet altitude! We stopped in Tigua to visit with the artisans who traditionally paint on goatskin canvas using primary colors and a primitive style. Since Tovah is an artist she especially appreciated the detailed artwork of these indigenous painters. Last stop before Baños was in Pelileo, the blue jean manufacturing town famous for its wacky mannequins, thousands of them along
A collapsed caldera high in the Andes, Quilotoa has stunning views all around!
the main drag!
Finally we arrived at my home in Baños -- I was so excited for them to finally see where I lived! We explored my neighborhood, taking CiCi for her afternoon walk up on the hillside above my house. We gazed down at the El Salado Thermal Baths and made our plans for a visit there in the coming days. We took a spin around town and dropped in to visit the BIB (Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños - the children's library where I volunteer), arriving just as the local kids were delighting in a magical bubble demonstration (it appears that the secret to huge, resistant bubbles is soak linseed overnight and add the strained liquid to the soap bubble mixture). Since Max works as a bartender we had to visit the Stray Dog Brew Pub for a tasting of the local artisan beers and since he is a fellow pizza-lover I called ahead to my Italian friend Filippo who prepared an extra special pesto, mushroom, onion, parmesan Brigniano pizza pie for us. Yum!!
Run Tovah, Run CiCi
Two sprightly gals set loose running in the hills.
In the next few days we visited rushing gorges, hiked over a suspension bridge, took a tarabita tramway across the rushing river and frolicked with CiCi at the park by the Casa de Arbol (the swing at the end of the world made famous by an award-winning instagram photo). The kids went on a few solo hikes while I attended some organizational meetings. The Fundación Arte del Mundo (the non-profit foundation that serves as the umbrella organization of the BIB) is undergoing some restructuring and renovation...once I can hold still and catch my breath (hopefully in April) I will find my place in the new marketing and sponsorship strategies being designed to help us keep our library and cultural center afloat.
I turned over my living space to Tovah and Max so during their visit I slept upstairs in my freshly renovated library, office and art space. It was the first time since buying the house (a year and a half ago) that I've slept up there, enjoyed the spacious bathroom with its gorgeous mountain views over the sink; felt
Flying over the Falls
Max appears to be enjoying the adventure!
the rattling of the wind through the ill-fitting doors and windows and battled with the fine sawdust rain from the ongoing battle against termites. My crumbling house has come a long way, but there's still so much work to be done.
From Baños we headed down the Ruta de las Cascadas (the Waterfall Route) stopping to admire each cascade, hiking to the foot of the famous Devil's Cauldron and stopping at the jungle's edge for fresh sugarcane at a look-out point where the Pastaza River widens and the feeling of being on the brink of the Amazon Basin rushes over you. We arrived in Puyo in time for the kids to visit YanaCocha animal rescue center and then take the extended tour of Omaere Ethnobotanical museum with the English-speaking founder, Chris. They were joined on their tour by a family from Quito (all of whom spoke English) who came in search of herbal, traditional remedies for some serious health concerns.
While they explored the healing properties of dozens
At Omaere Etnobotanical Museum
Chris, the founder, gives amazing tours of this living museum in Puyo.
of jungle plants, I soaked in the wooden hot tub at our lushly gardened lodging, aptly named El Jardin. If you scroll to the very end of the photos you will find a series of pictures of exotic jungle flora, all found in the El Jardin garden. Another reason I enjoy staying there is the exquisite cuisine at their restaurants - to my mind one of the best in the area! Using local ingredients like ishpingo (a cinnamon-like acorn cap) and uvillas (also known as goldenberries).
The next day we ventured deeper into the jungle, stopping in Misahualli to visit the troop of local capuchin monkeys. There were hordes of tourists pestering them and they became quite aggressive...with good reason. We watched from a safe distance as they jumped from tree to tree along the banks of the Misahualli River. Driving on we finally arrived at the Huasquila Jungle Lodge. When I reserved our stay they gave me a hefty discount since I'd be able to act as interpreter and they wouldn't need to hire a bilingual guide however, since Tovah had studied Spanish in
The Jatun Yaku River
Near Tena we boarded inflatable rafts to head down the Jatun Yaku (which means 'big water' in Kichwa).
High School and College, I was able to send them off alone with the jungle guide so I could hang in a hammock and chill. They were fitted for rubber boots and off they went!
Several hours later they returned muddy and sweaty and glowing with joy, Tovah with a leaf crown on her head and Max with his face painted up with achiote. I so admire these young people for embracing every aspect of the adventure laid out before them!! We were served a traditional dinner of maito (chicken and yuca cooked in a banana leaf) with a side of mashed hearts of palm (slightly sweet and very yummy). As we settled into the spacious, comfy cabaña listening to the rain pattering on the roof over the many jungle noises outside the screened windows, I made sure the kids had the earplugs I'd given them. Yes, I'm a snorer and for these two nights they'd have to share the lodging with me! Tovah said that my snores were meek compared to the raucous wood-cutting of her father (my big brother Lee)!
Goofing on a Smooth Spot
Beautiful river scenery, enjoying a float before the river started getting rough.
River Rafting on the Jatun Yaku (Big Water River...El Rio Grande, as it were) was the ultimate adventure of our journey. We were driven an hour to the river's edge, fitted up with helmets and life vests, given paddles and instruction on how to follow commands. It had rained steadily the night before and as a result the river was rushing. Our journey was scheduled to take 4 hours but we were back in Tena after only 3 hours! It was beautiful, exhilarating and when we got dumped in the rapides (twice) terrifying. We had a safety kayaker accompanying us at all times and it would not be exaggerating to say that he saved my life. I'm a good swimmer, a strong swimmer but when wave after wave crashes over your head, filling your eyes and nose and mouth with water it´s hard to know which end is up. Young Jordan appeared at my side, held his paddle out to me and showed me how to hug the kayak so he could ferry me back to the raft. It took both Max and Nixon (our rafting guide) to lift me back in
This was taken by our safety kayaker right before we got dumped (the first time). A bit too much excitement!
where I struggled to catch my breath.
We stopped in a traditional Kichwa village for lunch and bought some handicrafts from the local ladies. I confess, I am a baskaholic and a sweet little handwoven shallow basket was calling my name...even more special when you meet the person who wove it. Back on the river, me now ducking down onto the floor and hanging onto the rope any time we approached rapids! Arriving back at the lodge a soak in the warm jacuzzi was heavenly (as if we hadn't had enough water for one day!) On our last day together the plan was to visit one more hot springs complex en route to the airport, but we were all so water-logged by then that we drove right past the airport and on to The Middle of the World.
After a pizza lunch overlooking the Equator monument the kids went inside the complex to recreate a photo that was taken of my parents when they came to visit me in 1989.
On their last afternoon in Quito, Tovah and Max recreated a 30 year old pose (see next photo of my Mom and Dad on their 36th anniversary in Dec 1989)
Since that time GPS has determined that the monument is not exactly on the actual equator, and a new more personalized museum has been opened just around the corner. The guide at Inti Nan museum recognized me immediately from my 2003 visit to Alandaluz (where I owned coastal property at the time). David is a charming young man and he made the visit very special for Tovah and Max and the other tourists. They saw demonstrations of loss of strength and balance when directly on the line, as well as a demonstration of how water flows down a drain in the opposite direction on either side of the equator.
Since their flight out was after midnight, I booked a night at the Quito Airport Suites, right beside the terminal. We hung out and relaxed in my room for a few hours before we went for a late dinner at a nice steak house in the food court across from the check-in counter. Bellies full, spirits content we bid farewell. It was so wonderful to share this amazing adventure with my delightful niece and her sweetie.
Al and Natalie Goldstein
While I was teaching in Quito my mom and dad came to visit me and posed for this favorite, iconic family photo.
Thanks for making the trip down, you two - for stepping outside your comfort zone and being ready and willing to try anything!
Reminder: there are many more photos at the end; a recap of each stage of our journey, a series of flowers from the gardens of El Jardin Hotel in Puyo followed by some silly mannequin pics! Scroll down, then click next to see them all.
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