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Published: March 26th 2014
Feb 1st Eruption
Viewed from the next town over the ash plume is impressive! (note: this photo was not taken by me, but all the others all were)
The past two months have been full of emotion --on both ends of the spectrum! It all began on February 1st when Mama Tungurahua blew her top -- and this was not just her average three-to-four times a year eruption -- this was a BIG BOOM which shot an ash plume 10 km into the sky - an explosion which was felt all over the country -- the mushroom-like emission visible in Quito 200km north, ashfall in Cuenca 400 km to the south, internal flights cancelled for days due to the damage that the glass-like ash can cause to airplane rotors. I usually only publish photos I've taken myself, but the first picture here is one I "borrowed" from a facebook posting; taken from the next town over it captures the drama and magnitude of this eruption.
I had recently arrived in Banos when Mama T began to boom. She often welcomes me back home with her show of sights, sounds, smells and sensations. I drink in the power of her immensity, feeling the rumble of energy deep in my soul. There are theories that extraterrestrial spaceships hover above active volcanoes to suck up their formidable energy. We watched the
Early Morning Glow
On Feb 2nd Mama Tungurahua was still sending heavenward plumes of ash and steam!
skies, but didn't glimpse any unusual light formations or other evidence of otherworldly visitors.
The first lava flow after months of inactivity burns recent tree & plant regrowth, filling the air with a forest fire smell. One day, however, I heard the crackling of fire close by, just across the river and running outside I saw flames leaping from the nearest hillside. I called 911 (a new service in Ecuador) and they put me on hold for a full THREE minutes before advising me to call the local fire department directly. They didn't even know the number, but fortunately while I'd been on hold I saw it posted on Shana's fridge. When I saw the 'bombers' contact I tried to hang up, but was unable to terminate the 911 call. Argh!
The hillside fire was most likely caused by the neighbors burning fields to prepare for replanting (nothing to do with the volcano). As the wind whipped through the Bascun river valley, the fire jumped - igniting another area further up the hill. The Fire Dept arrived within 20 minutes after my call, but their hoses could only reach to the lower patch of fire. The nearby homeowners
Farmers set fire to their fields, but the flames get away from them! This one jumped and firefighters struggled for hours to control it.
formed a bucket brigade trying to dampen the upper reaches of the flaming fields. It was quite the show, viewed safely from across the river.
Mama Tungurahua was still rumbling and grumbling and spewing two weeks later when it was time for my birthday party. I decided to invite a group of gringo friends to a luncheon at my friend Patrick's restaurant and farm in Cumanda, down the mountains toward the jungle. Many thanks to Patrick and the Swiss Bistro staff for creating a memorable meal for my celebration gathering...a delicious time was had by all!! Scroll to the end to see photos of each course of our remarkable meal. Apologies to my facebook friends who already saw these pix on my timeline!
When Karl's parents announced that they were coming to Ecuador for 2 months (!) I offered to take them around while Karl was working at the Biblioteca. I had met Jean & David 5 years back when they last visited. That time they stayed at my cabanas on the beach for a few days. This time I took them to Nanegalito where we stayed at my friend Cheryl's farm for 5 days. Despite the almost
A Gringo Gathering
Great group of friends, new and old, young and old, from a half dozen nations, all enjoying together on my Bday!
constant rain while we were there, we had a wonderful time. It was lovely to cuddle Cheryl's sweet dogs again and I enjoyed cooking in her newly remodeled kitchen.
First Jean, David & I spent a fun-filled day in Mindo. We took the tarabita tramway across a deep, lush ravine -- breathtaking views! Then we visited the Mariposario (butterfly propagation center) and finally took a tour of the Quetzal chocolate production center (with a tasting session at the end!) I'd already taken the choco-tour several times, so I grabbed a moment to catch up on email while savoring an icy glass of homemade ginger ale (puckery yum!)
The next day we hopped across the valley to Margarita & Polo's place, Tucanopy. We admired the rainforest canopy from 150 ft in the air, nervously making our way along a 4" wide metal strip with wire cable hand railings...sure gets the heart beating fast! We saw a howler monkey chowing down on seed pods not 40 feet away! At the end of the canopy bridge walk we reached a platform where we were to board a short zip-line which led back down to the trail.
I was first up
Karl's P's the Rio Mindo
We didn't go river rafting, but we watched the young-uns put in with their raft of lashed inner-tubes.
for the zipline and as the fastened my harness on the take-off platform, a cloud of tiny black bees began to swarm around my head. I panicked and took off zipping down the line; the buggers following me. I've been known to have horrible allergic reactions to bee stings so I was screaming in pain and fear! Trying to calm me, the guide yelled out not to worry, this kind of bees doesn't inject poison! I flew through the air howling as the bees kept stinging and biting, tangling in my hair and going down the back of my shirt.
In my panic I used the leather handbrake too liberally stopping abruptly, hanging in the middle of the zip-line. The guide swung out to help me reach the end, but in my efforts to move along I wrenched my neck & shoulder. Meanwhile, a few bees stuck in the back of my hair continued to nibble at my neck! When I got safely to the ground I was finally able to disentangle the rest of the little bastards!
The following day we went to the Tulipe museum to learn about the Yumbo people who inhabited the area thousands
On the Canopy Walkway
A narrow strip of metal strung across the treetops 150 ft off the ground. Makes the heart beat faster!!
of years ago. The museum, so classy and well-done, has won numerous awards. Alas our visit was cut short by a downpour so we headed to Igor's nearby farm for a cup of tea, a chat and a tour. Aside from his assortment chickens, goats, ducks, bulls & sheep he also cares for a half dozen dogs of all breeds and sizes who have wandered into his life. In addition, Igor has recently begun a parrot and parakeet rescue center with a series of 10 ft high cages - the place is all a-twitter!!
Back in Banos for just a few days before heading over to the next province. In the past I have done assessment visits for TESOL Certificate Training courses held in Quito, but this time the first ever course was being held at UNACH (Universidad Nacional de Chimborazo) in Riobamba (about 1 1/2 hrs from Banos). This was also the first assessment I've done for a course whose participants are all Ecuadorian; all of them professors at the University. Karie, the trainer, is a thoroughly delightful lady! I totally enjoyed my working lunches with her during my two days of observations & interviews in preparation for
Just as they were hooking me on,
a swarm of bees attacked sticking in my hair & going down the back of my sweaty shirt. Argghhh!!
the report I had to write for SIT (School for Int'l Training - the university in Vermont where I completed my master's).
On my way back to Banos from Riobamba I had a couple of interesting adventures. Even though I'm a political ostrich, it was impossible not to be aware that local elections were coming up. Every town was plastered with campaign posters candidates' supporters handing out hats, nail files, t-shirts and the like. Some of the campaign activities seemed so juvenile - like running for middle school class president! Well, while driving through small towns I got caught in a campaign caravan -- miles and miles of honking cars, waving flags and causing traffic jams. Like it's gonna make me want to vote for you if you block the roadways and hold up my progress!?
At least I had some entertainment while I waited a half hour for the caravan to finish. Some local farmers were washing their carrot harvest in the roadside run-off gutters, carefully bagging them for maximum volume. Not something you see every day! Once the line of cars had passed, I continued along the back roads. In one village I saw a truck
Campaign Caravan and Carrot Cleaning & Bagging operaton combined to hold up traffic for a half hour!
piled high with junk metal (chatarra) and perched precariously atop the pile of twisted, rusted bits was a mattress skeleton -- twirly, winding metal bed springs just begging to be used for climbing vines in a garden. I offered the guy $10, he wanted $20, we settled on $15 provided he threw in a small metal grate, perfect for a BBQ grill.
Back in Banos I scrambled to complete my assessment report and got it sent of just in time to accept a week-long job as driver-interpreter. I took Gary, his wife Fay and their 11 yr old granddaughter Lillie on a driving loop through central Ecuador. I picked them up in Quito and we headed back down towards Banos. About 15 km outside of Banos there's a cafe called Luna Bonsai. Gary commented that he used to raise Bonsai trees so I put on my turn signal so we could stop and check them out. The car behind me stopped, the one behind it stopped but the third car, a white pick-up truck, decided he wanted to pass us all. Just as I was completing my left turn off the main road he smashed into the rear panel
On March 5 i got hit in the rear panel and was still spinning even as the offending white truck was driving off!!!
on the driver's side, spinning us around 180 degrees. Fortunately we came to a stop on the shoulder and not in the lane of oncoming traffic!
It all happened so fast (as these things tend to do) and by the time I'd realized I'd been hit and shakily got out to assess the damage, I saw the white truck speeding off into the distance followed by the other two cars he was passing. No chance of getting a look at his license plate. Small comfort, there were lots of bits of his truck left in the middle of the road! Gary has worked in insurance for 0ver 30 yrs, so he's used to calming down people in shock. He examined the car with me, its sunken butt and accordioned back bumper, and deemed it still fit to drive. SO, we decided we could continue on with our journey.
Arriving in Banos we went for lunch, the waitress giving me ice packs for my head, neck & wrist which had bashed into the window. Fortunately, none of them was injured at all. I helped them get settled into a nice hostel and then they sent me home (back to
Fay & Gary look like they're enjoying themselves, but granddaughter Lillie is not so happy about the hanging tramway ride over the waterfall!
Shana's) to rest & relax. We made plans to meet the next morning and decide if I felt up to the week of travel we had planned together. I did, so after a rooftop breakfast overlooking Banos we headed down the Ruta de las Cascadas towards Puyo.
We took a hike along the top of the Pailon del Diablo falls, pausing to marvel over the gushing power of the swirling grotto at the "pre-cascada". Lillie faced her fears as we crossed the sharply angled suspension bridge to perch below the crashing falls, cooling ourselves in the refreshing spray. From there we headed further into the Amazon Basin and after a brief (rainy) visit to the treehouse and mosaic caverns we settled into our elegant hotel in Puyo for a delicious dinner by the river.
Early the next morning we visited the Omaere ethno-botanical museum. We were lucky enough to have as our guide Chris Canaday, one of the owners and founders of the place. He gave us a deluxe tour with lengthy explanations of the uses of medicinal plants and the customs of the Shuar and Hoarani cultures of the area. Very educational! Since Lillie was missing a
Pailon del Diablo Falls
Seen from the highway, hard to believe we hiked that angled suspension bridge to catch the waterfall's spray.
few days of classes while travelling with her grandparents, we squeezed in some study time wherever we went. So, in addition to driver & guide I was also teacher & tutor!
It was short drive to Macas, a town I'd never been to before. We decided to splurge for a fancy new lodge with a stunning swimming pool. Only three years old Arrayanes & Piedra was beautifully constructed but alas, the service was very poor. I asked the waiter who I could contact to share my observations and suggestions and he pointed out the owner, the woman who had been the least helpful or cordial. I decided it wasn't worth my effort to type up my recommendations! We enjoyed an afternoon of swimming and studying, a mediocre dinner, slightly better breakfast and headed back up the Andes the next morning.
I enjoyed exploring a road I'd never driven before. From Macas to Cuenca the highway is excellent, recently paved with outstanding views of waterfalls, dozens and dozens of them tumbling down the steep mountainsides. We looked down at long tranquil lakes formed by the recently constructed hydroelectric dam. The road gently wound as it climbed and climbed before
Pool & Piedras
Deliciously beautiful stones around the edge of this gorgeous pool with swim-up bar!
reaching the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, aptly called the jewel of the Andes.
My friend Roger, who had connected me with this driving gig, was in Cuenca with another group of tourists. He had set up our lodging at a charming Inn called Vieja Mansion where we spent most of the next three days. Lillie was getting nervous about the exams she had to take the day after she got back to New Orleans, so we spent a lot of time studying together. One evening we met Roger and his clients for a dinner of Spanish tapas. (yum! i've discovered that i love pulpo - octopus!) Roger and I were trying to recall all of the different places we've met up in Ecuador; at least 10 different cities!
My neck was still really sore, so Gary invited to pay for a massage for me. We all went together to a fabulous medical spa for one of the best (and most needed) massages I've ever received! The next morning when I drove Gary and family to the airport he pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket and handing them to me said, "Your tip. It should
The drive from Macas to Cuenca was gorgeous - including views of the long lakes formed by the hydroelectric dam.
cover your insurance deductible." What lovely, generous folks! In spite of a bit too much adventure at the beginning, we had a great week together!
One more week in Banos, getting ready to for my hotel job on the coast. I did all my beauty treatment before leaving (mani/pedi, leg wax, haircut, facial - $45 total for all!) and met with the landlord of the house where I'll be living in June when I finish working.
My friend Mary is moving back to Mexico so I'll take over the house she's been renting. It's a big place, two story with 3 bdrm 2 full bath & an outdoor terrace with mountain views all around. It has over 1/2 acre of land with avocado trees, mandarin orange trees, tree tomatoes, lemon grass, and more! The owner takes care of the garden and I get all the aguacates I can eat! I negotiated the price, high for the area (it's about 3 miles outside of Banos) but do-able for me. Including water & electric I'll be paying $270/month.
I bought Mary's furniture and appliances, and even took over her internet service (yay! no more stick modem headaches!) I've already
"Singing" into the "microphone" blossom
moved my boxes across to the storeroom so in June I'll be all ready to set up housekeeping! I haven't had a place of my own in several years, so I'm excited to receive visitors and maybe even take in a roommate (since I hope to continue working on the coast almost half of each year). Hooray! Jill's got new digs! If I love the house I may even buy it someday -- the owner and I have entered into dialogue about that possible eventuality!
Driving back down to the coast (10 hour solo drive) I loaded an audio book onto my ipod (Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende - excellent novel!) and got into the zone. I decided not to stop along the way, not even to take photos, so here are a few of the "mental pictures" I took:
* a herd of cows huddled in the rain with plastic tarp "rain jackets" tied over their backs
*a tumbling waterfall that started way up in the mountains, disappearing into a ravine, and reappearing again and again making its way down the steep incline
*a winding line of woolly sheep working its way up
Shana & Karl
Lovely, lively spirit of joyful friendship at my bday luncheon!
the switchbacks of a steep path, the fluffy zigzag of lumbering beasts interspersed with the bright wool ponchos of their keepers
Enough for now! I have to get a quick nap in before I start my afternoon to late night shift at the hotel. Do scroll down to see the photos at the very end!! Please drop me a note if you've read this blog. I love to hear from my followers! hugs & coastal breezes -- jill
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