Shana y el Arcoiris
I took this picture of Shana taking a picture of this rainbow right in front of her house on our last Scrabble day together before I left for the coast.
It's hard to believe that it's been over two months since I published my last blog! I hope that my faithful readers haven't been too worried about me. I've been busy busy busy, working at the beach hotel once again and the weeks have just slipped away. As a result I have a LOT of photos in this entry, some throwback pix from my January travels to Esmeraldas with Sue (thanks for finally sending them to me!) and other images compliments of my photographer friend, Colin who has been visiting from Ohio. There's no way my narration will touch on so many pix, so please scroll down at the end to enjoy them all!
It seems like my time at home is so limited --I had only a couple of weeks this last stretch in Banos, but as always I enjoyed my Scrabble marathon days with Shana as well as downtime alone in my house. I can lose track for hours when I dive into the world of baubles, decorating picture frames in multi-media mosaic utilizing my bits and bobs; the coins, shells, jewelry parts, pebbles, keys, etc. that I
Danish friend Nynne displays my decorated picture frames in her shop. I've had fun organizing my baubles and tapping my creative streak!
have organized into fishing tackle divider boxes. My best intentions of eating healthier and taking daily walks was rarely realized. Having said that, I did manage to do one full week wheat-free...not easy for me at all...and of course I haven't managed to keep it up with the amazing fresh-baked bread & imported Italian pasta here at the hotel. I'll try again once I get back home.
I left my beloved Banos to drop down to the coast again. I'm getting used to the solo drive across the Andes - about 9 hours in total. I put on a good audio book and drink in the ever-changing, always breathtaking scenery! I never tire of the views - dramatic inter-Andean valleys with their backdrop of snow-capped peaks, dense green agricultural patches, dotted with tiny villages. I still get panicked when I have to make my way thru Guayaquil, but I can now safely find my way to Virginia's house and, as we did once before, she accompanied me for part of the drive. I dropped her at her beach house in Ballenita on the Santa Elena peninsula, only
Former student, Pauley, keeps sending friends my way. Fun to hang out with young folks, around the same age as my nieces.
slightly out of my way as I head northward up the coast of Manabi province.
Arriving at Hosteria Mandala I overlapped a few days with the owners who were setting off on an adventure to Vietnam and Laos. I had worked with Chantal before, but now I met Emilie with whom I'd also be sharing the workload. Instead of being offered a raise I was offered the same salary for less work...in theory...more on that later! So, my work schedule would be noon to 3 pm every day, then covering Chantal's 7 am to noon shift twice a week and Emilie's 3 pm to midnight shift twice a week (to give them their days off). Although I never get a full day off, at least I would have some evenings free. The first couple of weeks felt absolutely luxurious, reading lots of books and watching one, or sometimes even two movies a day!
My friend Marianne & I started up a Friday morning tradition of swimming in the warm spring sulfur lagoon at Agua
Weekly visits to one of my favorite places on the planet, the Agua Blanca lagoon - a warmish spring-fed sulfur swimming hole with healing mud on the bottom
Blanca, just a 20 minute drive from here. It is such a magical place, truly one of my favorite swimming spots ever. The water has a unique density -- feels like rich velvet on the skin. I love to dive in (belly flop style) then lie back and bask in the rising bubbles -- a personal jacuzzi. One edge of the lagoon has a slimy, smooth mud patch which when trampled releases tiny bubbles which tickle their way up my legs. One day there were dozens of dazzling orange-y dragonflies, one of which posed on my shell-bead bracelet, casting a fluttery glow on my hand as the sun streaked through his iridescent wings. Hypnotic! Then there's the healing mud dredged up from the bottom by the guides, served up in little cups, ready to spread all over for a personal exfoliant full-body facial! I would have to get back to the hotel in time to work at noon, but only for 3 hours!
The one truly joyful part of my job is taking the dogs out for their beach walks. About 3-4 times a week I stroll
Late afternoon walk
- to the end of the beach and back. The pups usually hang pretty close to me, unless there's something exciting to chase (dogs, birds, bird shadows, car tires...)
the seaside with my five four-legged charges, timing the walks to coincide with low tide (tides change daily). It used to be that if I didn't take them out every day to discharge some energy, they'd rip up the garden and I'd be in big trouble with the gardeners. Now that they are older (Julieta's 9, Lalo & Bruna are 8, Carbon is 6 & Xanga is 4) it seems that they can go a day or even two without a walk and still maintain their uber-calm bear-rug stance on the terrace. Bruna has a hard time keeping up on the walks and finishes after us in a slow limp...but she'd never allow us to set off without her! On days when I haven't been able to take them walking they tag along each time I accompany a guest to a cabana for a mini-walk. The dogs sometimes follow tourists to the beach where they play and romp, then come back to the hotel panting and drooling. Or they just hang out in the shade of one of the beach cabanas, a departure from when they just hang out on the restaurant terrace!
Love the doggie reflections in the vast expanse of recently revealed beach!
On our long beach walks I always bring along my small cloth handle bag for collecting treasures. As I look for smooth green stones or wave-polished shells, I envision how I will incorporate them into mosaic designs I am dreaming up. My mind reels and wanders as I stroll the vast shore, the receding tide uncovering a multitude of glittering treasures. I do need to pay attention to the dogs a bit, especially if there are vehicles on the beach (which there aren't supposed to be!). The dogs will run after them, trying to bite the tires (what are those round black animals anyway?). If I spot a car or motorbike before they all dash after it, I can get Julieta on leash and the others fall into a tidy walking formation. Juli is the alpha mama dog and the others readily follow her lead. The best is when all five of them are leaping and playing in the surf - pure joy!
Each month around the full moon the tides tend to come up higher than usual and in early
Scarlett at Sunset
Enjoying nightfall at some friends' place in Las Tunas after they invited me to an amazing dinner! So nice to have some evenings free!
May we had a super-aguaje with dangerously high tides up and down the coast. Fortunately on our stretch of beach the sea only crested the berm and didn't destroy the waterfront hammock cabanas. The last few meters of the handicap ramp were washed away, but it was already damaged and slated to be rebuilt. For a few days during the big aguaje I had a hard time sleeping. I shouldn't be complaining about my room being too close to the sea, but some of the 15 foot high waves crashing down actually shook my bed. You hear about the tide turning - it's actually an audible pause in the rhythm of the sea followed by a new series of sounds -- messed with my sleep patterns, this shifting of energies embodied in a powerful sea.
Having evenings off meant that I could more easily get together with friends up and down the coast. Several times I was invited for dinner on the rooftop terrace of Pat's "sand castle" house and each time we enjoyed stellar sunsets. Angela, the gal who bought my cabanas,
Excursion con Suarez
Holiday weekend outing with my adopted family - here Johana, Beatriz & Fernando Suarez on the Ayangue "boardwalk".
was down for a visit so we went with a group of friends for Saturday night sushi at Azuluna. On Easter Sunday I took an afternoon excursion with my adopted family and we visited a beach community about an hour south. Another evening I planned an outing with waiter Freddy and his family. We shopped for new clothes for his three kids (two of whom are my godchildren) and then we met up with Johana & Daniela for a sunset pizza picnic on Salango beach. Many thanks to Colin for providing us with glow sticks - we had such fun making bracelets and hula hoops with them, their colors become more brilliant even as the sky darkened.
So, ideally I should have had plenty of time off for R&R and a bit of fun, but the best laid plans don't always turn out as planned. Can you say, Chikungunya? It's a mosquito-borne disease, less serious than Malaria but awful just the same...Dengue meets Rheumatoid Arthritis. Fortunately, as of this writing I have not suffered its effects, except for the fact that almost half of my employees have fallen ill and I've
An afternoon con la Familia Suarez, with friends Colin & Lori who were visiting from Ohio.
had to fill in when they're laid low. It comes on fast - I watched one waiter sicken hour by hour during his shift until we had to half-carry him to a taxi to get him home. The worst cases leave someone unable to even walk for the first few days, all of the joints swollen and stiff, high fevers and an all-over telltale rash. One colleague couldn't grasp a pen or do up her buttons. Supposedly the offending skeeters came over from Africa (thus the name) and the disease has taken hold on this part of the coast in epidemic proportions. Both of Ecuador's international airports have huge warning signs now, so I'm now trying to calm guests who are in a panic while being as honest as possible.
Another matter which has occupied a great deal of my free time: trying to fight city hall. Puerto Lopez is undergoing a major waterfront renovation and the mayor, in his infinite corrupt wisdom, decided to relocated all of the illegal squatter bars & cantinas onto a piece of land almost directly in front of Hosteria Mandala. It appears that this decision
dogs of mandala
found this foto on the mandala website - don't know who to credit, but thanks! nice picture of 4 of my 5 four-legged charges while I work at the hotel.
is his dig to the hotel owner, the latest move in a long-standing feud. If the bars manage to open there will be no more peace & quiet on this end of the beach, not to mention devastating environmental impact. So, I became the organizer of a group of owners/managers of hotels to the north of town. We have written official letters of protest to various local officials, and even one to the president of the republic.
I consider myself a political ostrich and I tend to avoid conflict whenever possible. I never asked to be thrown into this role, but from every experience we learn something about ourselves. I've learned that when I am emotionally upset I express myself better in writing; I shouldn't trust what might come out of my mouth. At a town meeting I stood up and protested that if the bars are permitted to open, every palm tree will become a urinal and the beachfront cabanas will turn into hangout for prostitutes! After that meeting I told one lying politician to his face that it seems clear to me that he's in the mayor's pocket, along
Aerial View of Mandala
Again, photo nicked off a webpage - really captures what a haven of green Hosteria Mandala creates.
with everyone else. Well, rousing rabble may be just what was needed here, but I would have preferred not to have had to go through the stress and turmoil of this fight. I feel like I've done all that I can.
At present, the bamboo shacks that pass for bars are lying vacant. There is no electricity; no latrines have been built. My daily mantra of optimism: Each day the bars don't open is a good day! It's been a month-long struggle with lots of emotional ups and downs. If they do manage to open, the consequences for the hotel will be serious indeed. A group of travel agencies in Quito who regularly send tourists to Mandala is also petitioning the Ministry of Tourism to reconsider this rash decision on the part of one corrupt mayor (aka la cucaracha).
So, I have just two more weeks left here on the coast. I hope to fit in more visits & fun before leaving Puerto Lopez. As always, I've really enjoyed all of the interesting people I've met who arrive as guests of the
Teach a fish to ride a motocycle?
Amazing what you see folks carrying any way possible. I also so 3 guys on a motorbike balancing a 3 ft statue of Jesus in a hot pink robe.
hotel. With each time I work here I feel more and more impressed by the wonderful staff at the hotel. One day when the cleaning crew was out sick, a gardener and a dishwasher stepped in to clean the cabanas. If a co-worker wasn't feeling up to par the others pitched in so the ailing member wouldn't have to walk stairs or whatever was needed.
When I leave the hotel, I'll visit a few friends en route to Quito where I'll undergo some medical exams and collect donations for the next garage sale fundraiser. Thanks for reading and please drop me a message so I know who's wade through my drivel this far! Keep scrolling down to see a dozen more fun fotos!!!
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