Posing in the kitchen with freshly boiled octopus. Delightful color, gross texture!!
This is my 12th
stint as substitute manager at Hosteria Mandala and this job continues to delight and challenge me every day -- never a dull moment - surprises around every corner! Even though it's supposedly low season, the hotel was completely full for my first three weeks back. Once they've arrived, many of the guests decide they want to stay longer than they originally reserved. Sometimes they have to switch rooms to make it work, so I shuffle incoming reservations and move folks around, the giant hand-drawn reservation sheets becoming a jigsaw puzzle with me struggling to make the pieces fit!
It's the second time I've been sharing the job, which means my mornings have been free and I've taken full advantage of them! The first two weeks I had to make three trips up to Manta (big city 1½ hrs north) to get my truck fixed. The insurance company provided for a rental car while Scarlett was in the shop, so other than the back and forth drives it was a relatively painless process. While in Manta I managed to visit the chiropractor and was able to do the wine & booze shopping for the
Reunion of Old Friends
Former student Pauley & former colleague Janet were both staying at the hotel. We all met at the Atlanta International School 12 years ago!
hotel as well. People stared at me in the aisles of the grocery store, peering suspiciously into my cart filled with bottles. I assured them it wasn’t all for me!!
Despite my best intentions to take twice weekly yoga classes in Ayampe (20 min south), I've only managed to get down there about once a week – hey, it’s still more than none! Yoga offers the perfect counter-pose to standing in reception for hours on end. I love my classes with Vanessa at Otra Ola on a big open platform where we hear birdsong and the gentle sound of the waves on the beach a block away. Even though I’ve only practiced intermittently over the past 18 years, yoga continues to provide me daily reminders of how best to hold and move my body to maintain a healthy spine.
A former teaching colleague from Atlanta days is now working in El Salvador. Janet came down to spend her spring break at Mandala. While she was here, we had a visit from a former AIS student whom we'd both taught. Pauley is now working with the Ministry of Health in Quito. What a delightful mini-reunion!
Playa de Los Frailes
Pristine beaches of the Machalilla National Park. Short walk to the mirador overlook gives stunning views!
Janet was here for 11 days so on a few of my free mornings we did some exploring.
Playa de los Frailes is a stunning beach, just north of the hotel. As part of the Machalilla National Park it is carefully protected. Janet & I arrived early and were able to walk the surfside paths all alone, as if we were the first to discover them! By the time we returned to the main area, the beach was packed with national tourists and their brightly colored umbrellas and the park officials were no longer letting people in! We enjoyed swimming with the pelicans as they dove into the crystal clear water right beside us! From up above the fish must have been highly visible and these large birds seemed not to be the least bit bothered by us humans splashing around in their feeding ground.
One morning I took Janet to the Agua Blanca sulphur lagoon (still one of my all-time favorite swimming spots!) and another day we brought along some fun hotel guests for an a.m. excursion down the coast to Montanita (the hippie dippy surf town an hour south). Of course we
Marianne & Nena
Morning beach walk with good friend & her goofy dog, followed by ceviche on the beach. Life is good!
stopped along the way for passion fruit pie (pay de maracuya) at Las Delicias de Benito in La Entrada. The flavor of that pie is so delectable, I can call up the vivid memory of it and recreate the taste in my mouth! We stopped at my friend Pepe’s general store in Olon. He’s closing out his inventory of bamboo furniture so I bought two chairs. Since I was in the rental car I couldn’t take them with me right away.
The next week I drove back down in my good-as-new pick-up, this time with visiting photographer friend Colin. On the way to collect my chairs we dropped down to the tiny fishing village of La Rinconada. Located right where the Chongon-Colonche mountain range plunges to the sea, the approach to this tumble of shacks and small homes offers breathtaking coastal views. One morning while I was at yoga Colin explored Ayampe beach. Many thanks,Colin for allowing me to use some of your fabulous pictures in this blog entry.
Much as I enjoyed having visitors and showing them around a bit, it was nice to have my mornings free once they’d all left. I’d
Agua Blanca Lagoon
Love the curved ladder which leads to the climbing tree. The warm spring-fed sulphur lagoon is heavenly for swimming.
agreed to do beach walks with the dogs every Mon-Wed-Fri. According to the daily tides, I would plan my morning R&R around an hour-long walk with the five big dogs – all the way to the south headland and back. Walking along the hard-packed sand constellations of shells and polished stones appear at the edge of the frothy wavelets of the receding surf; the perfect visual antidote to countless hours in front of the computer screen answering reservation requests! Vast views of sand and surf are restful for the eyes and soul!
Each step along the shore is a natural exfoliation treatment for my tired, abused feet. Soft puffs of sand where the tide just pulled back provide a natural foot massage. My feet would never survive 16-18 hour days standing in reception without the aid of my 10 yr old blue-and-orange flip flop Crocs (which formerly belonged to my nephew Holden!) Even though the bottoms are now slick and without tread, the soles still have enough cushioning and are perfectly formed to fit me like a second foot!
These beach walks can be dangerous if I wear pants with pockets…they become so full
A guest caught this huge blue fish and gave it to the cooks to prepare. Check out my new to-short haircut - one of the girls said my hair looks frightened!
of magical finds that my pants threaten to fall down! The dogs are good company, running ahead to explore the hilly berms or chase low-flying birds, then circling back to fall into step with me and nuzzle my hand. When I see trucks loading up with sand I always approach them, emboldened by my entourage of big dogs, and tell them off – remarking that they are killing the beach and putting their own village at risk of shoreline erosion; they’re essentially shooting themselves in the foot!
The youngest dog, Xanga, proudly trotting along as she carries a long stick; Julieta reclining in the shallow surf, just past where the waves break; Bruna sniffing at every dead fish and eel -- running off with one in her mouth to bury it up ahead. Thankfully, the dogs have learned to avoid the spiky puffer fish who inflate as they rot on the sand. The pups used to try to roll in the stinky decay (hey, it smells like perfume to them!) Now they seldom get into smelly dead stuff …but when they do, what a pain to have to bathe them all so they can hang out on
I enter the dog zone for a much-needed break from my busy job.
the restaurant terrace without offending diners with their pungent fragrance! Oh my aching back after a marathon dog-bathing session! Immediately after they’ve been bathed they run to the beach to roll in the sand (sand dog-burritos!); then as they lounge and dry off they leave a dog-shaped pile of sand where they were lying on the terrace!
Cuddling with the dogs is good therapy when I feel stressed, but taking care of them is also a lot of work! One day Julieta showed up with a nasty gash that just wouldn’t heal. Trying to get the antiseptic spray on her is challenging, and sends all the other dogs running in fear of big bad Jill! Shoving antibiotic pills down her throat morning and night. Dropping homeopathic pain medication down Lalo’s gullet as he lies moaning each evening. Lalo has cancer of the sternum bone and his breastbone appears to be growing more and more misshapen each day. The owners said their good-byes when they left on vacation, just in case he’s not around when they get back – and they left it up to me to decide when he’s suffering too much (not fair!!) But Lalo’s doing
La Rinconada is tucked in a nook where the Chongon-Colonche mountains drop to the sea.
really well, enjoying his walks, eating his food and doing the dominance dance with the Carbon the Great Dane. I think the day that the alpha status shifts it will be time to re-evaluate Lalo’s degree of illness.
OK – enough about the dogs! Now, to tell you about some of the hotel guests. One couple left to travel along the coast and then came back a few days later, realizing that there was nowhere they’d rather be than at Mandala! Getting to know an interesting trio (2 gringos + and Ecuadorian) who come to stay almost every week as they get a nearby organic herb farm up and running. Volunteers whose families come to visit them bask in a few days of luxury after months of basic village life. I asked a sweet young couple how long they’d known each other and she shyly held up her hand to show me a ring – he’d just proposed to her that day after carrying the ring in his pocket for months! They invited everyone to join them in celebratory drinks!
A big Canadian family joined honeymooners for the last few weeks of their 8
Motorbike + wooden box o' meat = travelling butcher. We met him in La Rinconada fishing village. Dozens of dogs hanging around....
month journey (I commented that it wasn’t just a honey”moon” but a whole honey galaxy!!) Long-term travel is a really good test of compatibility! Lots of young Argentine couples, their ubiquitous “mate” (coca tea) thermos always close at hand. A Polish woman arrived with her adorable 2-yr old daughter, travelling with the child’s German father and his brother. Sometimes we’ll have a stretch of several days with no kids here at all, then when one arrives the whole energy changes it seems like there are five kids here! On the whole I enjoy the children, especially when the parents are attentive to their needs. One little boy, however, pestered me to the breaking point (that’s what I get for being nice to him). I finally blurted out, “Hey, I’m not your mom nor do I want to be!”
It seems that people leave their brains at home when they come on vacation! What makes them think they can leave their flip-flops sitting on the beach and they won't walk away? And what a hassle when folks leave things behind and then ask me to some how get their forgotten objects back to them! If they're still in
Viewed from the Santuario de Olon, a church perched on a cliffside.
Ecuador I can put them on a bus but I've also had to ask another guest from their same home country send the item via mail (It's not a good idea to send anything other than a flat envelope from here... more likely than not it won't arrive). One woman insisted that I send her blackberry via local bus so it would reach her before she left the country...but she first asked me to check her emails for her (I don't think so!) After packing the blackberry securely for sending, it started pinging and I realized that I hadn't turned it off, so I had to open up the package and start again! I've had to send along shoes, cameras, a make-up bag, keys.... One tour guide called us in a panic a few days after leaving to say that the ripped green pants that she’d put in the trash had $$ in the pocket! How could someone so brainless be responsible for a group of tourists?! When we told her that the garbage had already been collected, she intimated that it was our fault she'd lost her money!?!
In this job there’s always some crisis or
Taken from the terrace of the hotel.
another to deal with: rushing a guest to the local doctor, dealing with a snake on a balcony or a huge spider in a room, problems with the “calefon” water heaters abound, a strange smell in the garden (dead iguana). One guy got locked INSIDE his room when the door jammed and the waiter had to climb through the window with a screwdriver to remove the whole door latch. I’m incensed when guests (especially wealthy Ecuadorians) are rude to my staff. I have had to ask people to leave – not easy but I find myself getting tougher. One large family from Guayaquil arrived to check in with their yapping dog in tow. I commented that because of our five large resident dogs we don’t allow pets. She said she’d just leave her dog in the car. NO WAY! He’d bark incessantly, disturbing all the other guests. She then protested that when she called I’d never asked her if she had a dog with her. Give me a break! It took quite awhile to get that crew to finally leave.
I've realized that my role here is quite powerful but I don't let it go to my
I wandered through the garden collecting flowers for a honeymoon suite. When the guests left, it adorned the reception desk.
head. I decide which fish vendor to buy from and how much to pay, which tour operator or bird guide to recommend, which hotel to send overflow guests to when we’re full, when to allow agencies time extensions for confirming group blocks, whether to permit a few more days for people to make an advance deposit payment, to allow for a book exchange, if employees get to leave early or get a day off….it all falls to me to decide and dictate but I try not to abuse it.
For almost two years now the restaurant has been closed to anyone who is not a guest of the hotel, but people will still come up with the most outrageous stories to get me to let them dine here. Some folks get quite testy (but my guidebook says… but I’ve stayed here before…but we always used to eat here…but , but, but….) Turning folks away is never easy, but I’ve definitely gotten better at being the bad guy (is that a good thing? I'm not so sure...)
Staying healthy is even more important when I'm responsible for a bustling business with 20 staff. One day
Puerto Rico, Manabi
Town center hangout...rare to find them all empty!
I broke a tooth (eating popcorn, what else?) I've never broken a tooth before and the weird thing is that just a few days earlier I'd had a dream that my teeth were crumbling. The ragged broken edge was rasping at the side of my tongue, so I knew I had to do something. You know how it feels much worse than it actually is? Well, I discovered that there is a dentist in Puerto Lopez, a young man who looks about 16 (maybe because he's wearing braces...I wonder if he put them on himself?) He applied a resin and fixed my tooth for $15 in about 20 minutes...but three days later the resin repair popped off while I was eating a Magnum ice cream bar (!?!). He fixed it again for free and now it's lasted a few weeks. Eventually I'll have to have the whole filling removed and replaced.
One Friday night I started feeling clammy & nauseous around 6 pm. Each emergency run to the bathroom left me feeling shaky and weak. By 7:30 (full dinner rush, every table in the restaurant full) I told the waiter I was going upstairs to lie down
Tucked into the coveted spot beneath the owners' table, Bruna reminds us to "chill".
on the sofa. I barely made it up the stairs and into the restroom where I spent the next 2 hours alternating between attacks of diarrhea and projectile vomiting (or both at the same time - not a pretty sight). I hadn't felt that bad since I was 13 and had amoebic dysentery in Mexico! They sent a mototaxi driver to the pharmacy to get me a liter of Pedialyte (oral rehydration solution) and I downed it slowly, a capful at a time. After drinking it all I was able to sit up, but my fever spiked at 39C (about 103 I think). At that point I called my colleague who usually has the weekends off and she agreed to come in the next morning. I slept very little that night, my fever breaking every hour or so, but I was able to function well enough by noon the next day to take over my post at reception. By Sunday I was back to 90%. Thank heavens it was a quick & dirty stomach bug!
So, now I have no more mornings free -- my colleague is off to Switzerland to spend time with her dying mother
Known locally as veranera or summer flower, this 10 foot tall bushes love hot, dry weather. Such a riot of color!!
and I’m here all alone for the next few weeks until the owner returns. I’m dreading the increased schedule and duties, but I remind myself that I did it all on my own for years. Yeah, but, there were fewer cabanas then, and I was younger!! Before leaving she completed most of the month's billing and salary prep so I’ll have a minimum of accounting duties to deal with. One of the waiters agreed to put off his vacation so I’ll have three staff on duty, allowing me to take a 2-3 hour break each day. I can do this!
Enjoy the photos below – scroll down for some amazing animal pix: mammals, reptiles & amphibians! And please send me a comment if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog entry. I love to hear from my friends!!! Big hugs -- Jill
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