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June 16th 2014
Published: June 20th 2014
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Jessie, Jill & ShanaJessie, Jill & ShanaJessie, Jill & Shana

Jessie has loong arms and is the queen of selfies. Since we are three, is this a "selvesie"?
My last week working at Hosteria Mandala was much more relaxing – Chantal returned from Switzerland and then Maja got back from vacation. I had my mornings free again. Since the tides shift 20-40 minutes later each day, I checked daily charts to plan the best time for dog-walking on the beach. A few times the ideal moment came before 7:00 am so, since I was generally awake anyway, I’d set off for an early morning stroll. When it’s low tide at that hour the broad stretch of hard-packed sand is full of walkers and joggers. Fun to see so many folks from the village turn out to take advantage of nature’s free gym!

The downside of a.m. beach walks is the profusion of pesky sand fleas – I guess they wake up ravenous. Even wearing long pants I’d come back with a row of bites all along the bottom cuff. The upside of walking just as the tide has receded is the myriad of colorful shells lined up along the ocean’s edge. Some days there are almost none at all and on other mornings, yowza! I noticed that shoals of similar types of shells seem to cluster and then deposit on shore.

The seaside never ceases to fascinate. We had a few weeks of exquisite sunsets, just before the arrival of the garua fog season. My midnight waiting while the guard takes the kitchen staff home can be tedious. When I’m exhausted that half hour feels endless. On nights when the moon shone brightly I’d stroll out to the beach; the moonlight on the wavetips was magical! Miraculous power and beauty of the sea.

Julieta just would not leave her armpit sore alone, so she was forced to wear the “cone of shame”. Not a happy camper – bashing into everyone with her rigid plastic head cone she made known her discontent! One day I noticed her daughter Xanga licking the now unreachable itchy spot for her! Then Julieta figured out how to scratch it on her own, despite the cone. Oh well! The day I removed the cone for good she went into heat. They had her spayed last year but for some reason the vet failed to remove her ovaries. As a result, even though she can’t get pregnant she still goes into
Is it suppertime yet??Is it suppertime yet??Is it suppertime yet??

Patiently waiting on the terrace, but once the sun starts to set they leap up each time the kitchen door swings open!
full heat!

Lalo’s health held steady – it seemed that the cancer had gone into remission and when Juli was in heat he acted like a goofy adolescent, panting and humping all day and night. It became a bit embarrassing when we had sessions of doggie porn at dinner hour on the restaurant terrace! When the owners returned, Lalo was in peak form, full of glowing energy. As Aurelio commented, a week of frequent sex can work wonders! Hotel guests always got a good laugh when the dogs would start up howling chorus – they hear a car alarm or a siren and Lalo is the ringleader, the others all joining in. It can take several full minutes to get them all calmed down!

Doggie dinnertime is a regular show at Mandala. As the sun dips behind the horizon the dogs stretch out on the terrace, staring hopefully at the kitchen door. Each time it swings open they startle, then settle back down when it’s not yet the parade of their huge feeding bowls (too heavy for me to carry!). I encourage the waiters to bring the male dogs’ food
Doggie Dinnertime!Doggie Dinnertime!Doggie Dinnertime!

After their own bowl is licked clean, they make the rounds & re-lick each others' bowls! The males (right) are slow, distracted eaters so I stand by as their guard person!
first, since they are the slow eaters. When Xanga’s dish was the last to emerge she’d panic, running back and forth in desperation, jumping up on the waiters’ legs. Lalo's the messiest eater, dribbling food all around and then getting gravel stuck on his droopy lips when he goes back to "barkuum" up his spills. Carbon often pauses while eating, looking around and then forgetting what he'd been doing. Silly boy! I had to point his nose back down into his dish and watch over him so the females didn’t sneak over and steal his meal.

All of the dogs got new leather collars, so I set the waiters to work in their free time. First they had to remove the horrible metal spikes and once they were fitted onto each dog, every collar got a woven macramé “lock” so it would be harder to steal them. Since they cost at least $10 each, the collars are a substantial investment!

During my last week at the hotel, Jessica arrived from Banos! We had a few fun excursions (yoga class, to the lagoon for a mud treatment, visiting friends down the
Dear friends come to visit...Dear friends come to visit...Dear friends come to visit...

My Guayaquil "cousins", Rosa & Virginia came to spend the night at Mandala. We hadn't seen each other in 8 months! Julieta, Lalo, Bruna & Xanga joined our beach photo!
coast, an overpriced lunch at the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain ate when he was in this area). Quite a few of the upcoming photos were taken by Jessie, our photo- journalist! Thanks, amiga, for letting me use them in this blog.

As soon as I finished working, Jessie & I headed up the coast to meet Shana in Manta (she flew to the coast from Quito). It was Jessie’s first time visiting the beautiful coast of Ecuador and I enjoyed seeing it all through her eyes and her camera lens. We travelled northward, visiting some favorite spots along the way. Northern Manabi province has some of the most breathtaking coastline views!

An old friend, Moya, was hotel-sitting in Canoa so she loaned us her fabulous house in Briceno. Tucked in the curve of an estuary, Moya's two-story artist's retreat was the perfect place for us all to relax and unwind. Jody used to live in Banos but is now living near Jama, about an hour north of where we were staying. She came down for a weekend sleepover with me & Jessie & Shana. We all enjoyed watching
Scarlett at Pat's HouseScarlett at Pat's HouseScarlett at Pat's House

Great to reconnect with friends who live 15 minutes south of Puerto Lopez. Their rooftop observation deck is the perfect place to hang out!
sunsets from Moya's fabulous terrace, then having a big girls' slumber party, giggling until late into the night!

While staying at Moya's we took a few excursions to the nearby towns of Bahia de Caraquez and Canoa, and we had a lovely lunch with old friends at Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. Then it was time to continue further north. We gave Jody a lift back to El Matal, stopping to see the little house she's caretaking and to visit the breathtaking modern art gallery home of a friend. We said good-bye to Jody and the three of us continued on up to Punta Prieta, and spent the night at a longtime favorite funky guest house that just keeps getting better through the years!

The next morning we headed up to Pedernales where I parked the truck in the center of town on a bustling street with lots of busy shops and a steady flow of pedestrians. We took a few pictures of the stunning Romartegui mosaic on the church and nipped over the the ATM (we all needed to replenish our cash funds). When we got back to the truck
Pedernales ChurchPedernales ChurchPedernales Church

While we were posing in front of this favorite mosaic, our suitcases were being nicked from the truckbed!
a man stepped over to tell us that two suitcases had been taken from the back. Sure enough, the tarp was undone and Jessie's rolling case & my small beach clothes bag were missing. "Didn't anyone see him do it?" I asked, incredulous. The man pointed across the street and said, "She saw who it was."

The woman across the way said it was the guy that started chatting with Jessie when we first got out of the truck. We had all seen him, knew what he looked like and what he was wearing. The shopkeeper said he had headed down toward the beach. Not sure what we were thinking, but we drove down to the waterfront and told everyone we met about what had happened, describing the bags and the thief. Several folks encouraged us to file a report with the police, so we did. Much to our surprise, the gal at the station radioed a car which immediately appeared. The two young cops followed us back to the spot where we'd been parked and then asked us, "Well, where is he?" Ha! It should be so easy!

Cute CopsCute CopsCute Cops

We followed these guys through the poor section of town to see if the contents of our stolen bags was already being sold.
we stood their on the curb with the two cops alongside, folks began to come out of the woodwork to tell them what they had seen. Sure, everyone saw it happen but did a single person do something to thwart the theft or report it immediately?! "He's from down Manta way" "He's been sleeping on the corner bench for the past few nights" "We're so sorry this happened to you!" Now the police told us to follow them as they drove us through the poor part of town, where shady types go to immediately sell what they've lifted. Fascinating glimpse of the town's underbelly, but no thief to be found.

Before departing the cute young cops asked for a complete description of the bags and their contents. As I explained to them that the thief would surely be disappointed since my bag had only old ratty t-shirts, shorts & underwear. "Won't he be surprised to find a bunch of old bras?" I exclaimed, watching in amusement as the cops struggled not to giggle and blush!

As we continued our journey northward, Jessica & I recalled more
Cave SwimCave SwimCave Swim

After a long, hot beach hike this water-filled tunnel is naturally air conditioned!
and more things that had been in our nicked bags. Luckily, I'd repeatedly insisted that Jessie put her laptop in the case with mine, inside the locked truck cabin. We stopped for lunch in Mompiche, a cute fishing village that none of us had visited before. Then, onward and upward reaching Playa Escondida well before nightfall.

It was great to see Judith again and the 5 days we spent at her gorgeous lodge were heavenly! Shana & I rummaged through our bags and found enough clothing to outfit Jessie. I was glad I'd put my dirty clothes in a separate plastic bag, so those were not taken. Also, since I'd been working at the hotel I had an ample selection of clothing in another suitcase. Sure I lost some favorite old duds, but they're just things! Glad to realize that even after the theft I still have a full week's worth of undies!!

Marathon Scrabble sessions on the ocean-view terrace, sunset swims in the warm bath-like sea, long walks along the shore through rocky tunnels and caverns, seeking shells and driftwood at low tide, enjoying fresh seafood in the company
Susan's TerraceSusan's TerraceSusan's Terrace

Sending joy back home to Susan from the terrace of her lovely home. (Shana, Judith, Jill)
of dear friends. It just doesn't get any better than that! Until Judith builds her own home she stays at Sue's house. Sue had been going through a difficult time back in California, so we all posed for a photo on her terrace, sending her Playa Escondida magic & joy!

A German/French Canadian couple has built a stunning home just beside Sue's place. Anja is a fabulous baker and Judith commissioned a chocolate cake, so we were all invited over to tour their house and enjoy the delicious cake on their terrace. The leftovers the next day were even more delectable! After our wonderful stay, we were all loath to depart but we had to move along and start rolling back towards Banos.

Each time I take a long driving trip around the country I am pleasantly surprised by how the roads keep getting better. In the 8 years since I returned to Ecuador, overall road conditions have improved at least 300%! There are now very few stretches of primary highway that are not freshly paved, well sign-posted and as good as any North American road I've ever

Shale cliffs reach right down to the water's edge.
driven. Now, if we could just train the Ecuadorian drivers to be a bit more cautious and careful. They tend to think only of themselves and pull some of the stupidest manouvers!

Since we'd gotten an early start we had time to stop for lunch in Los Bancos at the Mirador Rio Blanco, a lovely restaurant with stunning views of native bird life and the rushing river below. We dropped down to Mindo for a quick peek of this cute town tucked into a deep valley. Alas, rainy weather made for difficult touring.

Next stop was the Intillacta Nature Reserve, established by our good friends Margarita & Polo and their three kids. Better known as Tucanopy, they have a zipline and canopy walkway through lush rainforest growth in an inter-Andean valley on the western slopes of the great Andes mountains. We went with Margarita to the greenhouse to pick food for our dinner -- the freshest of veggies served with trout in ginger sauce.

As we were finishing up our dinner Margarita & Polo's sweet dachshund, Lupe, came stumbling

After long days of driving, it was great to just "plotz" and relax at Margarita & Polo's charming home in the Intillacta Reserve.
up the front stoop. It appeared that she'd lost her sight. Polo had bathed her with a special flea shampoo that morning and we feared that the medication (poison) had an intoxication effect on her. We took turns holding, soothing & cuddling the sweet, feisty sausage dog who was terrified. Luckily by the next morning she could see again and was back to her old mischievous self.

The next day we visited the Tulipe archaeological site and award-winning museum, documenting the daily life of the Yumbo people (800 BC). I'd visited as a tourist several times, but this time went along as interpreter (Jessie's Spanish is still very basic). I was pretty exhausted from the days of travel, right on the heels of months of hotel work. It was a supreme effort to stay focused and translate every word the guide was saying. I insisted they not charge me admission since they didn't have guides who spoke English and I was fulfilling that role.

After visiting the museum, I had the gals drop me at Cheryl's farm in the next valley over from Tucanopy. Cheryl had
Coffee BeansCoffee BeansCoffee Beans

Manual "Berry-Huller" at Cheryl's farm. Turn the crank and the "beans" get extracted and dropped into the bag below. The fleshy red berries make great compost!
just returned from the US and she and I had some catching-up to do! Cheryl gave us a mini-tour of her farm and we got to help with the coffee processing! This year's yield is at least 10X what they harvested last year! Then, Jessie drove my truck back to Margarita's (about 20 minutes over unpaved roads) and the next morning Cheryl drove me out to the main highway where we met the gals for lunch before continuing on our way.

Our journey took us back through Quito (several hours pause for Shana to have a balancing treatment for her back) and then on down to Banos. Coming HOME! I felt especially eager to get back as I would at last be moving into my own (rental) house! Before going down to the coast I'd stored my stuff in the bodega of the new place until Mary moved out. I savored the delicious prospect of unpacking all those boxes and trunks, some things I hadn't seen in over 8 years! In my next blog I'll tell you all about my new home. Please be sure to scroll all the way down to see more fabulous
Yumbo SpiralsYumbo SpiralsYumbo Spirals

At the Tulipe Museum there are many petroglyphs on display, offering clues to the mysteries of the Yumbo people.
photos! Thanks, Jessie, for doing a great job of documenting our adventure! Write me a comment! I love to read what you all have to say. Chao for nao!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 30


North to San LorenzoNorth to San Lorenzo
North to San Lorenzo

Heading up the coast, this is one of the beautiful stretches just below Manta.
Rice Fields of CorreaguaRice Fields of Correagua
Rice Fields of Correagua

An inland shortcut drops to a lowland rice growing area. The egrets must be finding something yummy. The area's name means "running water".
A Ceibo FaceA Ceibo Face
A Ceibo Face

The drive northward from Manta is dotted with these dramatic trees. Cousins of the African baobab, they look like they will reach out and hug you!
Playa EscondidaPlaya Escondida
Playa Escondida

My favorite part of this beach is the rock arches and caves.
Equestrian BoyEquestrian Boy
Equestrian Boy

When I asked him if I could take his photo, he smiled shyly and posed for me.
Estero de PlatanoEstero de Platano
Estero de Platano

An authentic fishing village just beyond Punta Galera.
Azuca RestaurantAzuca Restaurant
Azuca Restaurant

Artist friend Heblyn fixed us a delicious meal at her fun and funky hangout. (Judith, Jill, Shana)

20th June 2014

Well, weren't you lucky it was only ratty t-shirts and old underwear that got stolen from your truck!!?? LOL
21st June 2014

Wonderful peek at our glorious tour.
You are such an excellent guide, Jill. Thank you sooooooo much for the gifts of your invitation, friendship, curiosity, adventurous spirit and knowledge not to mention your clothing generously shared. Now that's a real girlfriend.

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