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Published: April 24th 2022
The cliffs that separate Olón from Montañita - the hippy dippy party surfer haven.
Hello loyal blog-reading friends! It's time for another exciting entry. This one is packed with travel pics! I usually spend hours and days writing the text and arranging the fotos so each picture coincides with the paragraph of text which corresponds to the image. SORRY! That isn't as likely to happen this time. You'll just need to scroll to the end to see all of the pics that didn't fit in with the text. I chose and captioned the photos weeks ago, but I can't seem to hold still long enough to finish writing and publishing it. How did I get so busy in retirement?
One of the reasons I've been unable to work on this blog entry is that I am unable to sit comfortably. I had a fall and am in quite a bit of pain. As I type this I am lying on my stomach with my neighbor's heating pad on my low back. We'll see how long my shoulders hold up in this position! I continue to do yoga three mornings a week, but my yoga practice has been severely limited lately as well. Poor CiCi is only
CiCi was so HaPpY running like a crazyhead all over the Olon beach!
getting very short walks these days. Even standing to cook is painful. I wear a back brace if I have to stand or walk for any period of time. It's been challenging to work on the patchwork quilt project since we're finally in the stage of laying out the design on the floor and it requires a lot of crouching and kneeling, getting up and down. What a drag it is getting old (cue music!)
In early March, I set off with my renter / friend / housemate Danielle on a two week driving loop over the Andes, up the coast and back down through the mountains. CiCi came along with us.The first photos showcase our adventures. Danielle will be staying in Baños with me for two more months and then she plans to move to the coast (somewhere warmer!) so this was an initial reconnaissance journey for her to start to check out some coastal towns. We spent our first few nights with my friend Amy who has a great two-bdrm apt a block from the beach in the peaceful town of Olón. She told me all about how she
Danielle and Amy
A magical stay at Amy's awesome almost oceanfront apartment! Long walk on the broad beach!
pays her rent by teaching English online a few days a week for only a few hours each day. Gorgeous ocean views from her ample outdoor terrace!
Our first full day on the coast we took a long walk at low tide along the wide, flat beach. CiCi was sprinting and whirling and bouncing around like a crazy pooch. She absolutely loved the freedom and her wildness brought joy to everyone around! We walked all the way to the headland that separates Olón from the hippy dippy party town of Montañita. We visited the church up on the cliff and continued on down to Montañita for lunch. As we were hanging out waiting for the restaurant to open some came up and hugged me from behind, and there was Gabriel, a Venezuelan chef who had been living in Baños for the past 6-7 years but is now running a restaurant in Montañita. He's absolutely adorable and a total sweetie but too young for me to ever have considered him a romantic interest. Well, Danielle and Amy are younger than I am and they were both wide-eyed asking, 'hmm -who's that cutie?!
Fishing boats nestled at low tide in La Rinconada (The Corner Nook) - a village tucked in a coastline crevice between Manabí and Santa Elena provinces.
is he single??'
From Olón we headed north up the Pacific coast stopping for pie-tasting at Benito's in La Entrada. I remembered that there was an Artisan Women's cooperative there which had been started by a Peace Corps Volunteer way back when. We asked around town and found someone who led us to the woman who had a key to their workshop. They make homemade paper (cards, photo albums, bags, boxes, etc), coin purses from candy wrappers, and they also crochet handicrafts made with 'plarn' (plastic yarn made from recycled plastic bags). More and more women began to trickle in as we oohed and aahed over their lovely handiwork. We each bought several items and took numerous fotos with our new best friends!
Continuing on up the coast we picked up the bamboo blinds I'd ordered for my bedroom window. To make space in the car, we dropped our bags and the blinds at our lodging and then picked up three members of my adopted family from Salango. One of their daughters, Beatriz, is one of my closest friends and she now
My Adopted Family
Juliana and Fernando Suarez pose her with the youngest of their 8 daughters, their only son, and his daughter. I met this fisherman and his family 15 years ago!
lives in Riobamba, just over an hour from where I live, but when I head to the coast I always get together with her family, even if she's not there! With the car filled with friends, we drove back down the coast and took them out to lunch in La Rinconada, a tiny fishing hamlet set in a deep crevice of the coastline where the Chongón-Colonche mountains meet the sea. Alas, neither of the two restaurants was open but one of the curious children ran and found a lady who opened up her place and cooked the five of us a succulent seafood meal. We wandered down to the 'dock' where a dozen fishing boats were pushed up onto the rocky sea ledge. We could see how they had carved runnels into the rock base in order to launch the boats out to sea at high tide.
We were staying in Puerto Lopez at Hostería Mandála, the artsy garden lodge where I had worked as substitute manager for over a decade. The owner gave us a great discount to spend five nights in two of the older rooms, side-by-side, sharing a
Los Frailes Beach
It's a steep, sweaty hike up to the lookout tower at this pristine beach, part of the Machalilla National Park just north of Puerto López
large ocean-view terrace. It felt luxurious to be a lady-of-leisure guest at the place where previously I'd always worked such long hours. It was great to visit with the employees and I enjoyed the exquisite breakfasts with their homemade bread. Danielle had a lot of work to do (since she works online she can do her job from anywhere) so I used these days to catch up with old friends.
Marianne and CiCi and I went to visit Agua Blanca, one of my favorite swimming holes. The warm spring fed sulphur lagoon was as delightful as I always remember it being. CiCi, after going beserk barking at me when I dove into the water, wandered off to play with the local goats! A few days later Marianne 'baby-sat' CiCi while Danielle and I went to visit La Playa de los Frailes. Since it's located within the Machalilla National Park, no pets are permitted on this pristine beach. We did the sweaty hike up to the mirador look-out tower and marvelled at this breathtaking stretch of coastline with its coves and inlets, waves crashing against the rocky outcroppings. We then continued on
Danielle at Agua Blanca
A sulphur lagoon lined with healing mud. Danielle really 'got into' the experience!
to Agua Blanca to cool off in the magical lagoon. Danielle did the full-body mudbath while I took a long, heavenly swim.
I spent a delightful afternoon with my goddaughter, Yibely and her family. Everyone calls her Yiyi (pronounced GiGi) and at 14 years old she's a fully grown woman! Her father, Freddy, was a waiter at Mandála and I was giving him English lessons at the hotel when I was first offered the job to fill in for the owners when they went on vacation for 2-3 months twice a year. I was still in my 40's when I started working there and I know for sure that there's no way I would have the energy to do that job now in my 60's! I was Yiyi's godmother for her preschool graduation (complete with cap & gown) and 10 years later I still try to participate in her education however I can. I recently helped her get a refurbished laptop for her high school studies. She's an outstanding student, and a huge help to her mom who just had another baby!
Freddy and Family
In 2007 I was giving English lessons to Freddy, then a waiter at Hostería Mandála. When I was hired as substitute manager of the hotel, Freddy looked out for me!
I invited Yiyi's family to have lunch in Las Tunas at D'Jinmy's seafood restaurant. We settled in at a table under a shady palapa hut right on the beach. After ordering one of each item on the menu, we set off to play on the beach, running and splashing and collecting rocks and shells. Yiyi's younger siblings, Frixon and Dana joined in the joyful play while baby Fiorella nestled in the arms of Mama Mercedes. A family of very humble means (Freddy no longer works at Mandala - he now goes out on a fishing boat every night) their love and closeness is very evident. I feel certain I will always be involved in their lives on some level.
I coordinated a luncheon of women friends on the coast. Even though all of the women live within 20 minutes of each other and like each other immensely, they say that the only time they get together is when I'm in town! We had a fabulous lunch at Patacón Pisa'o, the Colombian restaurant which specializes in plantain 'bowls' filled with yummy sauces. A lively, delicious lunch was enjoyed by all. Thanks to
Coastal Gal Pals
Though they all live in Puerto López, this group of fabulous women only gets together when I'm in town! Look at that yummy plantain bowl appetizer!!
Paty for picking up everyone's tab (what a nice treat!). I especially enjoyed visiting Agnes's new zero waste boutique, Etnias - so many creative and original handicrafts and gourmet products.
Danielle and I continued up the coast and spent a night in Santa Marianita, a tiny village in a cove just north of the bustling port city, Manta. We also bopped around Manta awhile, stopping to see my chiropractor friend Larry for our respective treatments and adjustments. At the Donkey Den in Santa Marianita we enjoyed a most exquisite sunset and dinner with other expats, Danielle learning a bit about the coastal lifestyle. The following day we visited a few more northern beach towns before heading inland and up into the cloudforest region of northwest Pichincha (the province where Quito is located). We stayed in funky little cottages at Mirador Río Blanco in Los Bancos and were lucky enough to see toucans feeding at dusk.
The next day, on to Cotacachi where we'd been invited to stay with my friend Sue. She had been having some serious health issues and warned me
El Río Blanco
In the cloudforest region of Northwest Pichincha Province, an hour and a half from Quito, there is a town called Los Bancos and a charming hostel called Mirador Río Blanco.
that she wouldn't be up for going out as she was tied to an oxygen tank. I ask if she really felt up for visitors and she responded, 'oh please come and stay at my place! I've only been out of the house twice in the last three weeks and I'd love the company!' She had just moved into a fabulous 3 bdrm place with an outdoor courtyard that had views of two nearby snow-capped peaks. We spent all afternoon visiting with her and in the evening I met up with my friend Jan who still lives in the US but is hoping to move to Ecuador in the near future. When I returned from my dinner with Jan, Sue was in her room, crying out in pain. I asked if there was anything I could do for her. 'Just close the door, please, so I don't bother you with my moaning,' she replied. I went to bed with a heavy heart.
In the morning Jan and I took Sue (oxygen tank in tow) to her favorite breakfast place, the CooCoo's Nest. Since I could pull the car right into her patio area,
Street Art in Cotacachi
Wandering around with visiting friend Jan, he shot this sweet pic of CiCi making a new friend. The chairs are painted onto a cement bench.
she barely had to walk at all and was excited about the outing. Jan was glad to meet her as he will probably be relocating to Cotacachi. Sue used to live right above the restaurant so she knew everyone by name and it was like old home week. Such a lively, delightful woman - I am sad to say that she passed away the following week. I feel blessed to have spent quality time with her during her last days. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer 11 years earlier and at that time was only given a few years to live. Since then she's been living life to the fullest, surrounding herself with joyful friends and lots of adventures. Just a few months ago she got a new diagnosis - not cancer (!) but her breathing was being obstructed by calcified tumors on her bronchial tubes which formed over the scarring from previous bouts of pneumonia. During her last days, her beloved adopted Ecuadorian family was with her in the hospital. Rest in peace dear SuzyQ!
I had coordinated our visit to Cotacachi so we could meet up with Jan
At the Basilica
Joyce and Danielle posed in front of this gilded altar at the huge Basilica in Quito
and take him to the airport the following day in time for his flight to Cuenca. From the airport we headed to our hostel in Quito. Luckily, I'm well known there so the manager agreed to let CiCi stay in my room with me. She was such a good girl during the entire trip -- I would lay down her favorite towel, put out her food and water bowls beside it, say 'here is your bed bed' and she'd settle right in. I managed to squeeze in a visit to the opthamologist, a follow-up to my most recent cataract 'clean-up' procedure. I helped Danielle learn the ropes of navigating the medical clinic in Quito, since she had contracted insurance with the same company I use. She stayed on in Quito since she had some medical appointments lined up. Though she still speaks very little Spanish, she was usually able to find someone who knew some English to supplement her Google Translate communication.
Returning to Baños we barely had a few weeks to catch our breath before Joyce arrived! Joyce, Danielle and I had all met over 20 years ago when we
Plaza San Francisco
We spent a Sunday morning wandering and exploring Quito's historic downtown area.
were living in Atlanta; all of us married to French-speaking African men at the time. Joyce is the only one still married and still living in Atlanta. She works at the Atlanta School for the Deaf and had a scant week of Spring Break to come down and visit us! We drove back up to Quito to meet her midnight flight at the airport. The morning after she arrived we spent a few hours in Quito's historic downtown area, visiting churches and wandering the cobbled streets. My old friend Jean lives in the old town and she tossed her keys down from the balcony so we could come up and pay her a short visit. She'd been ill and housebound for quite some time, so she was grateful for the visit.
The three of us spent a couple of days in Baños, touring the area (Jill's famous gorgeous gorges circuit) and of course, visiting the Casa del Arbol with the Swing at the End of the World. We went out for fondue at my fave restaurant, Swiss Bistro, and strolled around downtown Baños. Then we travelled down the Ruta de las
Gal pals who first met around 2000 because we were all married to African men and living in Atlanta. Only one of us still is. So much fun to be all together again!!
Cascadas (the waterfall route), stopping to ooh and ahh over each waterfall along the way. We did the easy hike to Pailón del Diablo (the Devil's Cauldron) and also the not-so-easy hike down to Cascada Machay. I had not done the Machay hike in over 10 years. I remembered it as being steep, but it was brutal! The exquisitely beautiful falls at the base made it well worth the effort and yes, I did make it back up -- proving to myself that I am not as much of a wimp as I sometimes make myself out to be.
That evening we stayed in Puyo at my favorite lodge, El Jardín located on the edge of the Amazon Basin. After that day's gruelling hike, I was even more grateful for the wooden hot tubs in the garden. Aaahh! Joyce and Danielle spent the afteroon at Omaere, the ethnobotanical living museum right beside the hotel (I've done the tour a dozen times so I hung out and relaxed). They enjoyed the tour so much that they went back the next morning to chat with the English speaking guide about some topics which
About halfway through the lengthy process from cacao pod to chocolate bar, this is what the bean looks like inside.
especially interested them.
From Puyo we headed deeper into the jungle, stopping en route for a chocolate-making tour. TsaTsaYacu is a community tourism project whose machinery has been donated by various countries to enable them to completely process raw cacao. The young guide walked us through the entire process, allowing us to taste the beans along the way. Shucking, fermenting, drying, heating, crushing, sifting, stirring, tempering...so many steps from pod to bar! It was a delicious and fascinating visit!
We continued on to Misahuallí, a riverfront village famous for the troupe of capuchin monkeys who rule the town square. After settling in our lovely hostel, Banana Lodge, we ventured out to visit the giant ceibo tree. I was under the impression that it was on public land, but the gate had a padlock on it and a sign with a phone number. I called and a gal arrived within fiive minutes to unlock the gate and she charged us $1 per person. I asked what the money was for and she said it was to support an old lady who doesn't have
Tasting cacao every step of the way. Here are the gals in the drying room.
enough to eat. Should I believe her? Oh well. The dense vegetation on the winding path made us feel that we were really in the jungle. I'm lucky that Joyce and Danielle love to take pictures. Credit for most of the photos in this blog entry goes to them! And of course, the requisite selfies (ussies) of the three of us in each location (and I didn't even include all of them here!!)
After leaving the car back at the hostel, we wandered back into town (about a half a mile), taking the back streets to avoid the construction on the main road (digging sewers). As we meandered along, a little indigenous woman invited us to follow her down a path which she told us would lead us to the beach at the edge of the river. She was carrying what looked like a grass skirt but was in fact, as she explained to us, a straw curtain that she had made for her kitchen door. She led us past her house (richly adorned with driftwood collected from the river banks) and directed us to a path with dense vegetation. We
Ginormous Ceiba Tree
Danielle has a great eye -- her perpective on this photo is stellar. Awesome huge tree.
ended up on the pebbly banks of a curve in the river where I collected some smooth stones for Julie (she loves to paint them). We continued onwards to the monkey forest, but they weren't around -- they had all made their way to the town square.
If you read my blogs regularly, some of this will sound familiar since just a few months ago I did this same visit with Julie and Flo and Donna. Again we went upstairs to Pepe and Gloria's wonderful Spanish Tapas restaurant, La Tasca. While we waited for our food we were entertained by the monkeys playing and romping on the electric lines right outside our second story window! The way they curled their tails around the upper wires made me think of a zipline! These monkeys are clearly used to putting on show for people - they are such clowns! We watched one struggle to open a bag of chips he'd stolen and another tipped over a plastic beverage bottle and was licking up the spilled liquid.
Back to Baños for just one more night,
At the Base of the Giant Tree
We three silly gals had so much fun together!
then I sent Joyce and Danielle up to Quito in a taxi. Since there was to be the annual Caminata de la Fe (a religous pilgrimage...to be held again for the first time in 3 years), all of the roads in and out of Baños would be blocked, so thegals left before the closures and visited the equator monument that afternoon before Joyce's late night flight. Danielle stayed up in Quito for a few days to have some medical exams and since her downstairs apartment was unoccupied, I was able to rent out the upstairs room to some friends of a friend.
Due to the Pilgrimage Walk, there were no rooms available in town and they were grateful to have found a place to stay. They loved the room so much, they ended up staying three nights! I just shoved the quilting supplies to the edge of the desk and made room for them with their suitcases. It would be impossible to have people in both rooms because the wooden ceiling of the downstairs suite IS the floor of the upstairs room. I'd have to put in insulation and carpeting or
Misahuallí Monkey Town
We are the selfie queens! Three gal pals back together, adventuring in the Amazon Basin!
something if I wanted to rent out both simultaneously. As it is, I love using the upstairs space for my own creative pursuits.
Hopefully, the next blog entry will have play-be-play pics of the amazing patchwork quilt project. It is ongoing but will hopefully be finished in the next 4-6 weeks. Please be sure to scroll down and click next to see dozens more beautiful photos!
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