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Published: February 26th 2018
I secuestered him and drove him around to confuse him, but I did let him take off the blindfold after telling he we were going to jump off this bridge!
Oh my! Once again it's been 2 months since I last published a blog entry....what's my excuse this time? Well, Dec and Jan & Feb have been filled with celebrations and travels, but also with health concerns and solutions. Let's start with the good stuff!!
December birthday joy included a fabulous party for sisters Carol and Pam; live music, lots of dancing and a gathering of good friends! For the first time ever I got to play with Christmas decorations, preparing the BIB Bazar Charity Shop for holiday sales. It was so much fun to drape the windows with garlands and hang delicate globes and icicles. On New Year's Eve I started a new tradition, hosting a small luncheon at my home. Since I'm not much into crowds and bars, I decided to mark the end of the year with a lasagna afternoon. A yummy time was had by all and then most of my guests put on their high heels and hit the town. I took a sunset walk with CiCi and was tucked into bed way before midnight (old fart!).
Sisters Carol and Pam danced up a storm to the music of a live band at their joint birthday party!
marked Karl's bday and since he had nothing major planned, we decided to surprise him. After the kids at the volunteer library (BIB) sang to him and smashed his face into the cake (local tradition) I swooped in, put an airline sleep mask over his eyes and kidnapped him. ´Don't struggle and this won't be harder than it has to be´, I threatened as I drove him all around the outskirts of town to give the other volunteers time to get up to my rooftop terrace for a sunset cocktail hour. He was totally confused as to where we were going, and even as we pulled up in front of my house guests were still arriving (shh!! go on up ahead of us!) and just our luck, a local guitarist happened to be strolling past and joined us for a song. As I removed the blindfold the champagne popped and the music began.
Once the sun had dipped behind the volcano and the pitcher of piña coladas was emptied Karl and friends headed down the hill to Shana's house (three doors away) for the next course of our progressive dinner. Homemade
Champagne cork popped and serenade began as the blindfold was removed to reveal Karl's friends waiting on my rooftop.
pizza and wings accompanied lots of fun and laughter. It was a bit of a house-warming for Shana as well since she had just had new flooring installed (on my urging) and had just brought her extendable wood table down from Quito, which we opened out to maximum size. We have such a warm and loving group of friends in Baños, expats and locals alike.
February rolled around, time for my 58th birthday! I like to plan some sort of gathering and this year I made it easy on myself. I called my good friend Patrick, owner of the best restaurant in town, and planned with him a special menu for my group of 15 friends. A gathering of good folks and delicious eats! Old friend Jessie and new friend Sareya were visiting from Vilcabamba (in the south of the country, near the Peruvian border), warming my house with their joyful presence and joining in my bday celebration!
In between the festivities I managed to make two trips to collect donations for the volunteer library's secondhand shop. First I drove
Load 'Em Up!
Scarlett was packed to the gills as I drove another load of quality donations up from Cuenca, six hours to Baños.
up to Quito where Carl was emptying out the family home where both his parents and grandparents had lived; you'd swear no one had ever thrown away a single thing in three generations. Talk about a hoarder's den...narrow walkways through the boxes and piles of books and papers. Many thanks to Jean for helping Carl start to make headway and for convincing him that he actually could part with some of these things. A few good antiques among mostly moldy rubbish!
Another long drive down to Cuenca (6 hrs each way) to collect donations. On a solo drive this long I always cue up an audiobook...this time Bill Bryson's ´Short History of Nearly Everything´ - just enough mental distraction, awesome Andean views, a pleasant ride overall. Cuenca friend Regina had been collecting garage sale leftovers and storing them in her garage. There was a wealth of fine quality clothing, kitchen supplies, books and more! It was pouring down rain every afternoon, so I was grateful to have the use of the underground garage at Eileen and Richard's, where I was staying. I was able to sort, repack, reload and tie down
Avenue of the Volcanoes
A crystal clear day to drive from Quito to Baños with dear friends Chuck & Nancy, their daughter and grandson. Mt. Cotopaxi is visible in the background.
the plethora of secondhand booty. Since I didn't have to run around to a dozen different places, I even had time for a social luncheon with a group of Cuenca friends, several of whom brought their donations to the restaurant!
I took another trip north to Quito, this time to pick up expat friends Chuck and Nancy and their family who was visiting from the US. The sun rises just after 6 am every day here on the equator and when I get an early morning start on the road, my reward is breathtaking views along the Avenue of the Volcanos. December and January are the best months to view the Andes; brilliant blue skies and crystal clear views of snow-capped summits. Every glimpse is a new gift, setting my heart pounding with awe! (note: more pics of snowy moutnain peaks to follow)
I am so fortunate to earn my living (well, partially) by sharing with others the amazing wonders of this beautiful country that I love. I spend at least a few weeks of each year taking people around, travelling to favorite places
Despite pouring rain, these intrepid aventurers explored the subtropical rainforest at treetop heights.
and visiting old friends. Most all of my touring clients come to via word of mouth, acquaintances of people I know. Peggy and Clay are friends of friends who live in NE California, not far from Yosemite. Peggy and I started planning their Ecuador itinerary over six months ago, booking lodgings, confirming daily driving times, figuring out a budget, and keeping in even closer contact as their travel date drew near. I was so eager to finally greet them in person when I met them in Quito to begin our two week adventure together.
Our first two nights were spent in Mindo, 2 hrs NW of Quito in a subtropical rainforest area. We spent a day with old friends Margarita & Polo at Tucanopy on the Intillacta Nature Reserve. Despite torrential rains, Peggy and Clay were game to do a zipline/canopy walkway adventure. I punked out and stayed dry, chatting with my friends. In Mindo we visited the butterfly park (Mariposario), they took the chocolate tour and we enjoyed some lovely meals together.
Onward to the coast where we spent two nights
Playa Escondida Tunnels
A magical solo day strolling the craggy beach rocks on the Galera Peninsual. Heavenly.
at Playa Escondida, the place which was actually the inspiration for Peggy & Clay's visit. Our mutual friend, Sue and her daughter Mikayla had told them so much about this magical beach resort that they had to come down to see the oceanfront home that the Canadian resort owner, Judith, had helped Sue to build there. While they collected leaves and twigs to weave baskets and hung in hammocks reading, I enjoyed a whole day alone on the beach, hiking along the Galera Peninsula to one of my fave spots on the planet - a series of rock archways and caverns with cool, still pools inside. A float in a breezy cave is the perfect resting spot after a hot and sweaty ramble.
En route down the coast we stopped along the way for breakfast bolones in Pedernales, a city that was more than 50% destroyed in the 2016 earthquake. Although much has been rebuilt, there are still many many empty lots with piles of rubble. Similar scenery in Canoa where almost all tourist lodgings were deemed uninhabitable. Per Peggy's request we went to Montecristi, home of the original Panama hats. Unsure where
Panama Hat Maker
Just by chance we found Freddy's Montecristi workshop!
to go I just headed up a side street and stopped when, through an open doorway, I saw a guy twirling a loosely fringed unfinished hat. My dumb luck, we'd found one of the finest hat shapers and finishers. An article posted on the wall pictured all the famous folks he'd fitted with authentic Ecuadorian Panama Hats.
Freddy invited us into his workshop where he showed us various qualities of weave (one hat costing $800!). Peggy chose a moderately priced model, picked the shape and hatband she preferred and we sat back to watch as Freddy and his assistants heated an ancient looking metal contraption with pulleys and levers and created a beautiful finished product that Peggy will enjoy for years. The happy shopper strolled off wearing her newest purchase, a traditional stamped balsa box in hand.
We hurried on down the coast, hoping to reach Puerto Lopez before sunset. What luck again...just as we pulled up the palm tree-lined road to Hosteria Mandala, the bright orange ball of sun dipped into the Pacific! It was wonderful to be back at the gorgeous lodge
Peggy Picks a Hat
At the Panama hat factory in Montecristi we examined various quality weaves and watched at the crown and brim were shaped.
where I often work as substitute manager, but this time to be there as a guest for a few days. I sent my friends off on an island tour (Isla de la Plata is known as a mini-Galapagos) and spent the day reconnecting with old friends in the area. A group of a dozen gals met up for lunch at a great new restaurant - and one Dutchman also arrived to join us. Rene has been living down the coast in Ayampe and when I bought my house in Baños a mutual friend asked if my previous rental would be available. I corresponded with Rene for over six months, introduced him to the owners of the Juive Chico house when he came to visit, and he is now their new rentor!
The next day we all explored the Machalilla National Park, first with an early morning hike up to the mirador look-out point above the Los Frailes Beach - one of the most stunning stretches of Pacific Coastline I've ever seen! Then a short drive to the Agua Blanca indigenous community and archaeological site. I sent my visitors on the full
Clay & Peggy
On the path up to the Playa de los Frailes mirador overlook.
guided tour while I drove ahead to meet them at the sulphur lagoon where I met up with still more friends! A buoyant float in the warm-spring fed natural pool never fails to delight...one of my favorite swimming spots ever...and the fine mineral mud masque makes you look 10 years younger (really!)
Early start the next day for the long drive to Baños...alas the nasty policemen were out in full force...everyone is on the take. During our travels together, my visitors watched me talk my way out of at least a half a dozen trumped up fines. I think the cops are taken aback that a foreigner speaks Spanish as well as I do, knows the transit laws and refuses to pay a bribe...I usually can't be swindled! Having said that two weeks after that big drive over the Andes I received an email with a foto-multa.. a.radar speeding fine of over $100 for going TWO km/hr over the limit just outside of Guayaquil. Bastards!
After a few days back at my house catching our breath and doing laundry, we continued down
On the beach in Misahualli the troop of Capuchins put on quite a show for us!
the Ruta de Cascadas (Waterfall Route), overnighting in Puyo on the edge of the Amazon Basin en route to their Jungle Lodge Adventure! Despite torrential rains, we spent a lovely afternoon and evening at my favorite Puyo spot, El Jardin Hotel. That evening I lounged in one of their huge wooden hot tubs to ease the strain of so much driving! After a morning tour of the Omaere Ethnobotanical Living Museum beside the Puyo River, we continued deeper into the jungle.
In Misahualli we spent an hour with the monkeys - a famous troop of 30 or so Capuchin monkeys rule this jungle town. Down on the riverside beach we watched a dozen or more leap and scamper, stealing water bottles and baseball caps from the tourists. They've learned how to open the caps and drink from the plastic bottles...so human-like! As soon as we arrived at the tree-lined shores I warned my friends to hold tight to their cameras and other possessions! Clay had a close encounter, actually enticing a monkey to drink from his bottle as he held it for the tame beast. A quick stop for
Farewell New Friends
I sent Peggy & Clay off into the Amazon Basin on their next great adventure.
lemonade at the nearby El Jardin Restaurant branch before continuing on to the riverfront port where Liana Lodge's motorized dugout canoe was scheduled to pick them up. I waved good-bye as my new friends set off on the next chapter of their Ecuador adventure!
During these past few months I've had lots of visitors stay in my front house...it's nice that I have a comfortable place to receive guests. When I first moved in Tamasine helped me with painting and gardening (and so much more). She's been volunteering in various places, coincidentally passing through Baños precisely when I need someone to care for my pup for a few days. Naturally CiCi is happiest when she can stay at her own home while her mama is away! To thank me for offering her lodging Tamasine always offers me watsu treatments at the hot springs (3 minute walk uphill from my house). I drape a pool noodle under my knees and she massages shiatsu pressure points from beneath and swirls me around in the water to effect gentle spinal adjustment. It's heavenly!!
Scarlett and Mama T
It was good for me to be without a vehicle for a few weeks while Tamara rented my truck and took some friends around the country.
been doing community work down on the coast helping with economic reactivation and more in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. She received a group of grad school friends from Vancouver and we made arrangements for her to rent my truck for three weeks for about 1/2 of what it would cost at Budget Rent-a-Car...good deal for me, good deal for her. Whenever possible I take opportunities for Scarlett to earn her keep....it's not cheap maintaining a vehicle here or anywhere! While I was away doctoring in Quito Tamara and her visitors stayed at my place, taking care of CiCi and sightseeing around Baños. She's so lucky to have so many loving dog-sitters...but then again she's pretty darn lovable!
SO, you may have been wondering about the title of this blog entry -- well, here comes the medical part of the saga. I've been told I tend to describe physical illness great detail, too much for some, so if you're at all squeamish, you might want to stop reading at this point. Thus begins the kidney stone saga...at a given point in time I named her Pearl after a friend pointed
Half-asleep, posed elegantly on her bed. My little CiCi is such a great companion!
out that if I were a mollusc, that's what I'd be making!
If you regularly read my blog you may remember that way back in July when I was substitute managing a hotel on the coast I first hatched this ´calculo renal´ to the tune of knife-like pains for a week or so. Assuming (hoping) I had passed the stone, I went on with my life....until one day in October when I found blood in my urine. I happened to be in Riobamba, a nearby large-ish city, signing the final documents on my house purchase. I contacted my insurance company and they advised which hospital was a part of their plan (in case I might need to be admitted). After another week or so of moderate pain (mostly at night) I again felt suddenly better and assumed that I'd gotten rid of the little bugger.
During my Nov/Dec visit to the US I felt just fine (gracias a Dios!) but upon my return to Ecuador I was advised to have an abdominal echosonogram prior to a routine colonoscopy. The echo showed that
As glimpsed from 7th story glass elevator of the Riobamba medical suites while waiting (and waiting) for the urologist to see me...probably the best thing about that day was this view!
my urinary tract was dilated, stretched out like a balloon, most likely due to a kidney stone lodged below. Fortunately it didn't seem to be blocking the flow of urine completely, but once I became aware of what was really going on in there I started feeling an uncomfortable bloating. I decided to head back over to Riobamba (just over an hour from Baños) and spring for another $25 echo to see what was really going on. Well, apparently the stone had descended the ureter and was no longer visible via echo, so I had the distinct honor of being the very first patient to be x-rayed in the hospital's brand spanking new CAT Scan machine. Another $120 out of pocket but in the end my insurance reimbursed me 80%...and in a timely manner too!
CAT Scan in hand, I made an appointment with a female urologist in Quito who is a provider within my insurance company ($4.50 co-pay). She was awesome...she spent a full hour (usually appts are limited to 20 minutes) explaining all I needed to know about various types of intervention from least invasive to outright surgery. Since
Caught in a Hailstorm
Ducked under an overhang while dashing back to my Quito hostel as the skies let loose with pea size hail.
I wasn't in pain we decided to wait a few weeks to see if I could manage to pass the stone on my own.
I left the clinic, stopping at the Electrolux warehouse to buy some replacement door shelves for my fridge. I was only 4 blocks away from my hostel when it started raining, no pouring, no HAILING...and I was just wearing a Tshirt! Protecting my head with the Electrolux bag I dashed to the nearest overhang in front of an office building. There were already 5 or 6 people huddled in the doorway and we all stared in amazement at pea-sized hail crashed, bounced and piled up. A motorbike turning the corner slid and fell, and in an instant 3 of the guys under the ledge rushed out to help the rider right his bike and hobble into our protective cubby. After 10 or 15 minutes the hailstones seemed to slow and I took the opportunity to dash the last few blocks to my lodgings. While I took a hot shower the gals in reception built a blazing fire to dry my shoes and clothes. Brrrr!!! Last time I
Chimborazo & Carihuairazo
When I got an early start driving I was blessed with breathtaking volcano views!
felt so cold was a Chicago winter!!
So, now my challenge was to pass the stone on my own to avoid hospitalization. Let the games begin! I tried anything and everything that anyone suggested...since 1 in 10 people (mostly men) suffer from kidney stones, everybody has a home remedy to suggest. Here's a list of what I underwent during the next few weeks: jumping up and down in the hot pools, riding on the back of a motorbike on cobblestone roads, drinking a cold beer on an empty stomach and running up and down flights of stairs, jumping rope, drinking mass quantities of: pineapple juice, green apple juice, apple cider vinegar, olive oil with lemon, an herbal tea called Chancapiedra, and the most dramatic effect came from drinking 2 liters of mineral water from the hot springs. Folks did warn me that the waters from El Salado would ´loosen my stomach´ and indeed I had to spend the better part of two days very close to a bathroom....but did that kidney stone budge??....well, it turns out that it did descend a little bit.
Quito's Old Town
Sunset supper above the centro historico with the Virgin of the Panecillo perched atop the ´bread roll´ hill.
went back for another CAT Scan (UROTAC in Spanish) in Riobamba...much closer to home and less than 1/2 of what they'd charge in Quito. While there I had pre-op blood and urine tests. Back up to Quito to see Dra Lopez who was just leaving for a week in Florida! We set the date for a minimally invasive procedure (no incision, just a scope thru the urethra). The CAT Scan also revealed severe scoliosis so the doc said we should opt for general anesthesia rather than an epidural. She told me that I ought to be feeling extreme back pain (I do have twinges now and then, nothing really severe) and that for most people passing the stone as far as I had would have been excruciating. I guess I have a high pain threshold...not a bad quality!
By now I had handed off my truck to Tamara but lucky me, Carol & Pam were in Quito that night so they stayed at the same hostel (along with another friend of a friend I'd just met) and we all went to dinner at a lovely place overlooking the historic old town section of
Friend of a Friend
Delightful dinner with Debbie, introduced to me by friend Carole who took over my volunteer post in Africa in 1996.
the city. Arriving before dusk it was a great show watching the sky darken and the church towers light up one by one. I managed to hitch a ride back to Baños with the gals but soon after we got on the road Carol received a call from the bank saying she had to sign another paper. Well, we weren't turning back so she agreed to come up and do the signing on the day before my procedure...so even though I was without a vehicle I got lifts with good friends in a comfortable SUV.
I was glad I could act as interpreter to help Carol with her banking stuff, but I had to scurry off in a taxi to reach my cardiologist appt (cardio clearance for anesthesia). The next morning I arrived at the clinic at 5:30 am since the surgical suite was reserved for 7:00 am. The administrator who checked me in told me that he had to charge my credit card $1000 as a guarantee. What?!? When I had surgery in Sept 2016 they just ran my card as a guarantee and once the insurance coverage came thru billed it
Amidst bunches of chamomile and fat green plantains this felt-hatted vendor hawks her wares at the weekly Baños market. -foto credit Peggy Hankins
the $115 that wasn't covered. Maybe I should have insisted on going to that same clinic because here at Clinica Pasteur they insisted that since it was an int'l card they had to go ahead and charge it. I talked the guy down to $500, insisting that my insurance would be covering the rest. Needless to say, my blood pressure had shot up by the time I was finally taken to my room.
A wooden crucifix hung over the head of my bed and a huge Virgen Mary with a heart of thorns hung beside the TV screen. The intern who did the intake report needed me to spell ´Jewish´ (judio) for him! That evening as I tried to fall asleep I was treated to an hour of Hail Marys and Our Fathers as the mass was piped in over a general PA system. Once I was gowned and rolled down to the operating theatre the last thing I remember before the anesthesia kicked in was asking if they'd need to shave me...and to my relief the answer was no. Next thing I knew I was in a recovery area and my throat
The male oropendola bird builds these elongated twig tubes that sway in the wind, impress prospective mates and keep out intruders. The eastern slopes of the Andes 1000 feet above the Amazon Basin is home to such nests.
felt dry and raw, almost like it was closed off. I coughed and tried to clear it and the nurses told me that would only make it worse and they gave me a mebocaine sweet tart to suck on...ahh! relief. It would be hours before they let me drink water and the cool, slick gelatin felt heavenly slipping down my throat (and I don't even like jello!).
Back up in my room the doctor stopped by, smiling as she handed me a vial with three tiny pieces of the stone that she'd smashed with intracorporeal lithotripsy (breaking a stone with sonic waves). There is also an extracorporeal lithotripsy procedure but that wasn't a viable option for me. Lithotripsy...isn't that a funny word? I like it much better in Spanish -Litotricia. Since the stone had descended as far as it had, she was actually able to reach in and grab the bits which are currently in the lab for chemical analysis- I need to know what caused it (build-up of calcium or uric acid? genetic factors?) to avoid having this problem again!
Dra Lopez told
These fowl escaped the foul weather, hunkering down at the village bus stop.
me that there was no way I would ever have passed it whole because I had extreme narrowing of the urinary tract. The part above where the stone was stuck had weakened walls and a foul smelling back-up of urine. She said I'm lucky to have not suffered a kidney infection as they pumped my IV full of heavy duty antibiotics and analgesics. When she returned again in the late afternoon I had three visitors in my room...friends whom I'd told where I'd be all arrived at once. I felt very loved.
Impossible to sleep in a hospital...they come in and wake you every few hours and the urine bag was strangling my thigh. I gasped when I saw the bright bloody fluid they emptied from it. The doctor had explained that for a few days I'd be passing blood and might feel a burning sensation (which I never did). She also explained that the double J pigtail catheter would have to stay in for two weeks while the urinary tract walls regained their elasticity and healed from the intervention. As I type this I have 5 more days with the
Green plantain balls - a cooking afternoon with Peggy to share a yummy coastal recipe.
tubes inside of me, but the doc removed the external bag before I left the hospital. The next morning the doctor came to release me (dar de alta in Spanish...she gave me the high road) The nurses would not remove my IV until my bill was settled....45 minutes later I was still waiting for the bill and I just got fed up, put on pants (so my butt cheeks wouldn't be hanging out) and walked my IV pole to the elevator so I could go down to the office myself. The nurses got all flustered and sent an orderly down on the elevator with me.
The jerk at the cash window shuffled around looking for my bill and I had to point out to him that my paperwork was right there on top of his computer where no doubt it had been for the last hour. He insisted that he had to charge the other $500 before I could leave the hospital. I protested, loudly, that they cared more about $$ than their patients and an older gentleman, also waiting, scolded the orderly. ´What kind of place is this that a patient has
Car Wash Waterfall
Dropping down towards the Amazon, Scarlett always stops here for a quick bath.
to come down in their gown with their equipment attached...can't the papers be brought up to them? For shame!´ His outrage made me feel a tiny bit better, even as I was told I'd have to wait up to 60 days to get a good portion of my own money back, and that I'd have to make the trip to Quito to come personally to collect the reimbursement check.
My dear friend Debbie was there to pick me up, and I'm sorry I embarrassed her a bit with my hospital gown rant! I first met Debbie in 1988 when I taught with her husband at the Colegio Americano. Their family never left Quito and they are like my family in Ecuador. For the next 6 days I stayed in their guest house, just above their home and basically got out of bed only to go down for meals. I feel so fortunate to have had such a tranquil and loving place to recuperate! Tamara met me with my truck at the doctor's office for one last visit when we set the date for catheter removal. I'm really looking forward to that
Necessity is the mother of invention.
process (NOT) which we've decided I should be able to handle with just a local anesthetic gel (saving me hundreds of $$). I felt well enough to drive the 3 hours back to Banos, but just in case my friend Jean rode alone should I need her to take the wheel. I am blessed with caring friends!!
Thanks for putting up with my long-winded health descriptions. It was somehow cathartic to relive the experience in writing. I sure hope this is the last of my hospitalizations!! Scroll down to see the last few pics, group photos of the various celebratory meals!
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