My House is now a Home

South America
November 17th 2017
Published: November 21st 2017
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Gatepost Mural FinishedGatepost Mural FinishedGatepost Mural Finished

Welcome! Here's house my house looks with all of the painting complete!
During the past two months of renovation and sprucing up the exterior of my house, dozens of neighbors have stopped to comment. They tell me that my place used to be known as the Ghost House (Casa Fantasma) because of the metal bars on the windows, the peeling paint, the lack of care. They remark on my unique branch-woven fence, the lively painted posts, the lush garden and they thank me for bringing love and life back to the house. Since my street is the approach to the El Salado thermal baths, many people walking by stop and admire my unusual abode. I've met other foreigners who live further down the hill (Canadian, Russian, Danish, German) as well as my nearest neighbors who are Ecuadorian but live in Ambato (an hour away) and only come a few weekends a month (the best kind of neighbors to have!)

Fixing up the house has been stressful for me - so many decisions to make, so much outlay of cash...I am eternally grateful to Tamasine, my Canadian painter-gardener friend who stayed in the front A-frame house bringing her warmth, creativity and caring while I was
The Artist at WorkThe Artist at WorkThe Artist at Work

Thanks Michaela for lovingly personalizing my home!
settling into the back bungalow. By planning the Huasi Pichai (housewarming) party several weeks in advance, we set a goal to get everything painted, planted, cleaned up and ready to show off. My Colombian artist friend, Camilo came over for lunch several times, helping to lay the antique clay roof tiles on the tops of the walls and taking the time to cut some of the tiles down to create a round border around the base of the lemon tree. On Tamasine's suggestion we laid a layer of seashells just within the tiles - as they deteriorate supposedly they will calcify the soil.

The choice of colors for the two houses worked out brilliantly. My little back house is just a simple rectangle but with some snazzy paint details (periwinkle blue soffit, brown 'eyelash' shutters on either side of the windows) it really looks nice and ties in well with the front house. With the help of my former neighbor Cristina I brought over the boxes of colored bottles from my rental and we carefully stacked them in the newly roofed side bodega storeroom. The pressure washer got stored in the
Close-up DetailsClose-up DetailsClose-up Details

Morning glories weave their tendrils up the fence posts embellished by a butterfly and a hummingbird.
bodega and little by little the construction rubble disappeared (more trips to the city dump), pictures got hung on walls, walls and floors were scraped and scrubbed and the house shone, ready to receive party guests.

The Thursday before Sunday's housewarming party I woke up to find a bit of blood in my urine. I'd been having some sharp pains in my side so it was more than just a bit disconcerting, but I went ahead and made the hour and a half drive to Riobamba to meet with the realtor and notary to sign final papers with the seller. Just before the signing I stopped at a grocery store a block from the notary office and when I used the restroom the toilet bowl filled bright red. Now I was terrified; I stood in the produce aisle and called my health insurance company in Quito asking what I should do. They told me which hospital in Riobamba was affiliated with them and suggested I go to the emergency room. After the notary appointment (the seller was an hour late!) the realtor drove me over to the ER. He even offered
Inner CourtyardInner CourtyardInner Courtyard

This is the space between the A-frame in front and the one-story bungalow in back where I'm currently living. The lemon tree has sprung back to life!!
to stay with me but I insisted that I'd be ok.

The ER nurse sent me up to the 7th floor of the office tower to find the urologist's office. At first all I saw were closed and locked doors then finally a small cluster of people at the very end of the hall. The urologist was the only doctor seeing patients that day. He was due to arrive in an hour and there were 3 or 4 patients already waiting. His nurse wrote me an order for a urine test and an eco-sonogram and off I went, both tests right in the same building -- $5 for the urine test, $25 for the eco. I had to drink 3 liters of water, walk and dance around until it dropped and filled my bladder and hold it until I felt like I was going to explode. The technician pressed down on my abdomen with the eco wand (yowch!) and finally released me to go pee (ahh!) before he did another eco with an empty bladder.

The results were in my
The Big PictureThe Big PictureThe Big Picture

Here you see my A-frame cabana with my red truck parked up front. It's on the uphill slope which leads to the volcano and the hot springs.
hands just as the doctor was ready to see me ($30 consultation fee). Once he verified that I understood Spanish, he explained to me that I was trying to pass a 6 mm kidney stone (quite large for the tiny vessels it had to pass through). He gave me an anti-inflammatory injection and prescriptions for a diuretic, muscle relaxants and an opioid pain med. Other than occasional sharp twinges I wasn't feeling too bad. After lunch with a friend and some shopping for the party, I made the drive home without a problem. But as night fell the pain intensified. The timing couldn't be worse - I had so much to do to prepare for the party!

During the next few days I felt pretty well...during the daytime. I was able to prep the food and decorations for the party in spite of my lack of sleep. I was in agony all night long - I couldn't get comfortable, sharp pain with every toss and turn. I thought night would never end-- and then I felt well again in the morning. On the worst night of pain I visualized a boat
Welcome to my Party!Welcome to my Party!Welcome to my Party!

As I give a tour of the upstairs bedroom, the tables fill with food and friends and fun!
on the ocean and tried to imagine myself rolling over the waves with each new wave of sharp pain. I imagined the tiny kidney stone floating out of my body and just like that, it was over. No more painful nights. Not sure if it was due to the medication, the gallons of water and pineapple juice I drank, the long relaxing swims in the hot springs, or the magical Chilean Reiki therapist who waltzed into my life at just that time and gave me several hour-long Reiki energy treatments but it seemed the stone had passed.

I enjoyed getting ready, planning details to receive friends at my new home. It was fun to give everyone tours and point out the changes that had been made and were planned for the future. The concept of 'pot-luck' is not well-known in Ecuador and most people just bring chips or soda so I prepared a TON of food and almost everything got eaten by my 47 guests from 8 different countries! We had to add a second, then a third food table as the number of dishes and desserts grew. I loved seeing
Smiling FacesSmiling FacesSmiling Faces

Looking down on a joyful gathering of friends!
friends meet and mingle- folks from different aspects of my life (former and current neighbors, my pedicurist, several English students, an old friend from Quito, etc) We got started at 4:00 pm so by 8:00 everything was wrapping up (I was exhausted by then!). A group of friends stayed to wash dishes and I gave them a lift home, along with the borrowed chairs and sound system. What a pleasure to have almost no clean-up the following morning!

CiCi has adapted very well to her new home. She enjoys her daily walks and I've gotten used to the uphill climbs! Within a few minutes of leaving the house, I'm able to let her off leash and she loves to explore nature and dash up and down the nature, run, run! She's made a few doggie friends who sometimes accompany us on our walks and she also interacts with the horsies who are set free to graze on the hillside (click on next and scroll down to see 'dog n pony' pics!) We have several favorite walking routes; one that I particularly like has some mean dogs who will hopefully get
Running Free!Running Free!Running Free!

Just up the hill from my house is a glorious trail which overlooks the hot springs. CiCi loves the freedom and gets much needed exercises dashing up and down the path.
used to us and eventually stop barking and chasing us down the road. It's nice that my whole yard is fenced so that when I leave CiCi home alone she has plenty of spots to hang out, both in sun and shade.

Often our morning walk takes us up the hill overlooking the El Salado Thermal Pools. I can look down at the mineral baths, see how many folks are there and decide if I'll head back up to take a soak. Of course it's more pleasant when it's less crowded! The hot springs complex has 10 pools, all different temperatures situated beside the rushing Bascun River. There's a grab bar by the icy cold waterfall -- perfect for a back massage after a soak in the hot pool. For $3 admission I can stay as long as I want, though I've usually had enough after an hour and a half or two. I try to go up at least twice a week and have perfected an exercise circuit that I really enjoy. When there are few people I can take a long swim in the big pool or if not
El Salado Thermal BathsEl Salado Thermal BathsEl Salado Thermal Baths

Ten pools of varying temperatures alongside a rushing waterfall grab bar in the icy cold river. At $3 entry I can afford to visit 2-3 times a week. Ahh!! Relaxation and exercise!
I can do aqua aerobics and other exercises. Often I'll run into friends in the baths and we'll

I never take for granted how lucky I am to live in this stunningly beautiful valley. Just a 15 minute walk or 3 minute drive into town but it's worlds away from the hustle bustle of the touristic center of Banos. Banos is the second most visited spot in Ecuador (after Galapagos) attracting national visitors on pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Virgin of Sacred Waters (La Virgen de Agua Santa) as well as young adventure-seekers (popular for adrenaline tourism like zip-lining, rock-climbing, whitewater river rafting, bridge-jumping, canyon-rappelling, hang-gliding). More North American retirees are settling in the Banos area - great hiking and affordable cost of living. I'm happy that friends who live all over Ecuador are eager to come visit me. Andy and Michelle come to Banos every time they have friends or family visiting from the US and I love having them visit!!

Their last visit came during the week that I was preparing for the huge semi-annual fund-raising Garage Sale to
Lunch with Old FriendsLunch with Old FriendsLunch with Old Friends

Great to spend time with Angel (back rt) whom I met at Alandaluz in 1989 and Michelle and Andy (foreground) who own Black Sheep Inn, an ecolodge high in the Andes.
benefit the volunteer children's library. Fortunately I had a lot of help from friends and volunteers and with advance planning everything was ready in time, even while I was entertaining visitors. At the same time that Andy, Michelle, her nephew and his girlfriend were in town, Angel and his Polish girlfriend were passing through Banos. I met Angel in 1989 in the early days of Alandaluz Eco-Lodge. He's been living in Germany for over 25 years and this was only the 3rd time I'd seen him since returning to Ecuador over 11 years ago. It was nice to meet his lady friend, Justina and we all had a great time together.

A new-ish acquaintance, Purvi who works for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) is dating an indigenous guy who recently moved to Banos with his three sons. Delfin was looking for a place to live and I recommended Edith's hostel. I have known her for a number of years and I trade her English lessons for massage (I used to teach Edith and now I work with her fabulous 15 yr old daughter). It has worked out to
Lunch with New FriendsLunch with New FriendsLunch with New Friends

Purvi (beside me) works for the High Commission on Refugees, her boyfriend Delfin is a Shuar tour guide, and his three sons (Sami, Jimmy and Christopfer)
be a great place for Delfin's family to live as he is often away for his work as a tour guide and the family environment is very welcoming for his boys (aged 15, 11 and 9). When Purvi comes to visit we all get together and go for a meal. I enjoy being around adolescents - especially when I know it's just for an afternoon!!

While Jean was in town from Quito we took a Sunday afternoon excursion to the fertile agricultural valleys below Banos. Passing through Patate we had stellar views of Tungurahua volcano (nice to see her from the opposite angle that I get from my house) and we were even treated to a view of El Altar, a horseshoe shaped formation beside Mama Tungu. We continued on into the valleys to Pillaro where we headed to Pacha Mama restaurant. I had been there once before (on my manicurist's suggestion) and was eager to share this unique dining experience with Jean and Shana. Their specialty is Pato al Lodo (Duck in Mud). After enjoying a succulent meal we were shown the cooking process. The gutted duck is encased in
Duck Cooked In MudDuck Cooked In MudDuck Cooked In Mud

The gutted duck is encased in mud (feathers and all) then cooked in a mud oven for hours. The feathers burn off and the meat stays moist. DELISH!!
a special mud (feathers and all) and then baked in a clay oven. The high heat burns off the feathers, keeping the meat tender and moist. Both Jean and Shana have lived in Ecuador over 40 years and I was thrilled to be able to introduce them to something new that they hadn't known about!

The day that Tamasine moved out of my front house I got a call from some friends who have a hostel near the airport in Quito. They had an American couple staying there who wanted to come to Banos, but hotels were all booked up due to the Day of the Dead holiday weekend. I agreed to have the couple come stay at my place so I scurried to get it cleaned and ready. I said I'd charge them $20 per person per night and they ended up staying 4 nights, but in the end it was not at all worth the hassle. The wife was quite ill and her husband, complaining bitterly that he couldn't get out and do tourist things, stayed drunk the whole time. After they left I found one of the bedsheets
Garage Sale PrepGarage Sale PrepGarage Sale Prep

Tons of junk to sort and price. Lots of helpers lightened the workload. Big job, successful sale!
wadded up in a corner of the garden (she'd shit the bed) and several towels stained with blood (that wouldn't come out). After washing them all twice I donated them to the garage sale. I had originally thought that I might want to try opening Air B'n'B but after this experience I really don't think I want to open my home to people I don't know (baptsim by fire?).

So for the past several months I've been living a life of luxury - enjoying ample time for the hot baths, Scrabble with Shana and visiting with friends....but somehow I am as busy as ever - running to hardware stores, driving to Cuenca (6 hours each way) to pick up a load of donations, sorting and pricing piles of donations for the BIB Bazar Secondhand Shop and for the Garage Sale, teaching private English classes, helping an Ecuadorian English teacher write her Master's Thesis (in English), and settling into a new home. As I wrap up this blog entry I am in California with my Dad and sister (stay tuned for the next installment!) When I return home I will have several
Mama Tungu and El AltarMama Tungu and El AltarMama Tungu and El Altar

A rare sighting of the snow-dusted ridge of El Altar to the right of Tungurahua. El Altar is far in the distance so it looks smaller, but it's actually a huge horseshoe where a volcano top blew off aeons ago.
jobs driving friends and friends of friends around Ecuador. One of the things I enjoy most is sharing the sights and culture of this amazing country! So plan your visit soon....

PS - please be sure to scroll down for more fabulous fotos!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


Another Volcano ViewAnother Volcano View
Another Volcano View

Driving to the agricultural valleys of Patate and Pillaro we are treated to views of Tungurahua from the other side.
Assistant GardenerAssistant Gardener
Assistant Gardener

Who me? I wasn't digging in the compost pile!
First Attempt at a SelfieFirst Attempt at a Selfie
First Attempt at a Selfie

Flushed from the uphill walk with CiCi but happy to be out in nature!
Foal and MareFoal and Mare
Foal and Mare

Left free to graze on the hillside.
CiCi is CuriousCiCi is Curious
CiCi is Curious

Wants to play with the big doggies!
Run Run Play PlayRun Run Play Play
Run Run Play Play

Chashing around them in circles, barking and dashing- the young foal seemed a bit frightened! All CiCi wanted was a playmate!!
Heading HomeHeading Home
Heading Home

Back down the hill towards home, the views are just as stunning!

22nd November 2017

Beautiful House!
Hi, Jill, I am so sorry that your week before the housewarming was so excruciating but thankful that it all resolved. What a beautiful place you have created! As for the Air BnB, I doubt if most experiences are as horrific. In the States they charge a clearning fee (a lot) and some charge a refundable security deposit.
23rd November 2017

Beautiful home!
So glad that you recovered so quickly and that you're healthy again, Jill. The house and the pup are beautiful! Miss you! Happy thanksgiving, my dear friend!
18th December 2017

my house is now a home
Jill, your new home is just delightful! I wish you many happy years there. Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season.
20th December 2017

Happy Homecoming to You
Hi Jill, It was enjoyable to read the account of getting your new home ready for the house warming party. It must feel great to have your own place and to be able to fix it up as you like, it is a thrill, unfortunately your health crisis was timed poorly to say the least. Glad that passed. Your paths for walking are beautiful and your dog seems to be very happy such a beautiful area. We are in mid winter, cold and dreary. here in Massachusetts I have just about stopped working and I am waiting for my husband to retire in May. We have a new puppy. a Teddy Bear named Peppah, such a fun dog, fills my day with joy. We still long to get back to Ecuador , I miss it quite a bit so reading your blog is great, feels like I am there. Do not be discouraged with your first renter, most people are good tenants as I have found with my own rentals in the US. It is fun to meet new people and get some extra money. Glad your adventure is going well. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

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