Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Our year in Ecuador is over. We are missing our lives in Quito and starting our new old lives in Baltimore. It has been an exciting adventuresome year, we have all experienced much that is new and life changing, and I have no doubt that we will be back again.

Thanks to all who read and commented on my blog, I appreciate the input.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Final Good-byes

Goodbye Pichincha

I started today with a list and very systematically went through each item on it. The greatest challenge was to fit just enough in the bags so each of them weighed 50 pounds and no more. I crawled into bed after 1 AM last night and started again at 7 this morning. Life felt suddenly brighter when Maria and Gabriel came by and relieved me of my toaster oven and various and sundry items, and then Gustavo came to empty out my refrigerator and my kitchen cupboards. The apartment looked definitely emptier and I could focus on the stuff I had to fit into my suitcases.

I had missed dinner last night and breakfast this morning, so Maria suggested a coffee. It was back to Boncaffe next door where the coffee tasted so very good. We had a lunch date with Isabel and the family and arrived at the designated time (12:30) but of course it took another hour and a half to get to the restaurant (Lo Nuestro) and another hour or so to get fed. Maya and I were starving! The food was delicious (I like Costeno food best) and it felt good to catch up with the family. Erika is off to Finland to study at the end of the month, Stephanie is back from her year of study in Portland, and Junior just finished high school and is learning French at Alliance Francaise. He will be studying at Universidad Catolica next year. I was delighted to be able to understand everyone at the table and keep up with the conversation.

We stopped by to visit Jipsum at our dance school in the Mariscal and arranged to meet again in January when we plan to add a salsa class to the Ecuador course. Amparo came by for a visit and cakes from Cyrano's, and we were all crying when we said goodbye.

There was more craziness when I started weighing suitcases again and invariably found each bag a little over 50 pounds. When Gustavo came by I had him weigh each bag again, and he decided all of them were overweight. It was too late to do more than pull out a few more clothes, so we took the huge heavy bags downstairs. Of course there were no cabs when we searched for one. We had to take two taxis, and I stopped at Isabel's to give her a bag of clothes and say goodbye again. As I ran across the street to get to her house, the bag broke and underwear and socks were strewn across the road, so I cringed and grabbed all the bits and pieces and stuffed them together and left themwith her, how embarrassing!

I was so thankful to have Gustavo with us to get through to the Delta desk with our junk. Everything went rather smoothly except that the narcotics police decided to go through every item in one of my bags and I am afraid the breakable things will not survive.

The day has been a whirlwind of activity so I have not had much time to think about how painful it is to leave. I have no doubt that I will adjust to my former life without difficulty, but change is challenging and we have had a good year with many wonderful experiences and relationships and we will miss this place. It feels as if the year is ending without too much noise, not with a bang at least, more like a whimper. We are just leaving and that is that.

Monday, July 12, 2010


View from the Teleferico

The streets were almost dry this morning and the sky was blue with clouds, so Maya and I decided to take the teleferico up Pichincha to see the city and hoped to see more mountains. We arrived later than planned, so that when we arrived up top, the clouds started to roll in and the possible views began to fade away. Guagua and Rucu Pichincha were both covered in snow, and appeared and disappeared behind clouds as we ascended the path. We veered off the prescribed path to the start of the climb to Rucu, where we decided to rent horses for a half hour. We did not go far, but I was delighted to wander through the high paramo vegetation.

Rucu Pichincha

We had limited time, since Maya had her last violin lesson and last orchestra practice and last concert of the year. I dropped her off at 4 after saying goodbye to her teacher Karin, and then visited the salon downstairs where I had my last manicure and pedicure. It was amazing to talk to the ladies downstairs and remember the early days when I did not understand anything and struggled so much to communicate. I still have a tough time understanding the Columbian woman who speaks so rapidly, but I am good at figuring out the gist of her comments and saying something intelligent in return. At least they think I speak Spanish even when I clearly am lost in the conversation.

High Above Quito

Up Close to Heaven

Maya had a concert at the Iglesia del 'Carmelo' on Amazonas and El Inca. I arrived early and found a mass going, and of course the concert started late. It was lovely to watch Maya lead the orchestra and I felt sad that she would no longer be playing with this group. She has always felt good at practice and with her orchestra friends, and often in those first months it was the place where she felt most confident. The children have been helpful and thoughtful and the conductor has been a delight. She has learned so much and is a much better musician now. When we told her violin teacher in New York that we would be moving to Ecuador, she had told us that it was the end of Maya's violin 'career' and that as far as she knew there was no one to teach Maya violin here, and that Maya would 'fall off' track here. Clearly that has not happened, Maya has learned so much and has grown so much as a musician.

Good bye Quito. It felt right to say good-bye from 13000 feet today. It felt sad to say good-bye to individuals. When Maya and I arrived home after the concert, there was a knock on the door, and Patti and Marcelo from the gym downstairs came by to say good-bye and deliver some gifts for us. I have seen either Patti or Marcelo at the gym almost daily since we moved into the apartment on September 7, so they have become a very regular part of our lives. Maya often joins me and reads or does homework while I work out, and Eric and I helped them buy a computer for their son Mateo, so our lives have intersected in all sorts of ways.

I have one more day to pack and say good-bye to too many people. I am not very good at saying good-bye so I am reassuring everyone that we will be back in January, which is true, but mostly avoids the finality of leaving.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Laguna Quilotoa

The Ilinizas

Roosters and birds woke us up. I will miss waking up to birds singing. I could hear the mountain climbers getting ready early; our wake up call was at 7:30. Breakfast was granola with fruit and yoghurt and a cappuccino which was of course not really a cappuccino but pretended to be one. We met our guide for the day, who was from Israel. He had come to Ecuador to visit family and travel and ended up volunteering and staying far longer than he planned. Ecuador has a way of grabbing you and holding tight.


Our tourbus was packed with tourists from Germany, Canada, Peru, Columbia, Brasil, and Israel. Every seat including the jumpseats in the aisle were occupied. Our driver was Ricardo and guided the Spanish and Portugese speakers, and Avi guided the rest of us. As we drove onto the Panamerican Highway most of the mountains were clearly visible, including Guagua and Rucu Pichincha and the Ilinizas covered in snow, Corazon, Ruminahui, and Pasachoa. Cotopaxi was again covered in clouds. The sky was blue and the sun was warm and I was hopeful that we would see more throughout the day. Eric and I had visited Quilotoa earlier in the year, and by the time we arrived at the rim of the crater lake, the fog was so thick we could not see more than a foot in any direction. We had waited an hour or so hoping that the clouds would lift, but in the end we drove back blindly and missed the lake altogether.

So I was trying to remain positive, which was easy to do for the first part of our journey. We stopped at Pujili to visit the Sunday market, and wandered through the fruit, grain and meat stalls. It appeared to me that the locals were quite accustomed to tourists toting cameras, and I found myself altogether too careful about offending them with my photographs, so I did not do well there as far as recording the experience. I had an easier time when we stopped at an indigenous home later on. I had wondered about the curious structures when I drove through with Eric early in the year.

Their homes are dug into the earth and covered with grass. A small space accommodates 15 or so members of a family, with the oldest male being the head of the group. There is a corner for the fire and the children sleep close to the fire and the adults further away. Guinea pigs run all over the living space, and pots and pans are piled up in one corner and some clothes hang on a string running across the centre of the hut. There are many many children, a few women and fewer men; they are likely working in the fields. We are at 12000 feet or so and every inch of land is cultivated, apparently all work is done by hand. Potatoes and onions are the usual crops. The indigenous are incredibly poor, and our visit provided more than they usually live on in a month!


Working the Fields

Indigenous Farm

Cuy in the Home


Mother and Child

Cultivating Every Inch

Tigua Mountain

We drove to the lake and I was ecstatic that despite the clouds which had descended as we ascended, we could actually see the crater from end to end. There was no sun, so the colour was a deep blue rather than the turquiose that appears when the sky is brighter. We walked down the very steep path to the bottom of the crater and Maya took her shoes off so she could put her feet into the 5 degree water. The laguna appeared after an eruption some 500 years ago.

Canyon as a Result of an Earthquake

Laguan Quilotoa

The hike up took more than twice as long and Maya wanted desperately to rent a mule, but I insisted that she walk and it was painful to watch her struggle. Avi stayed a step behind her all the way, and as we ascended it began to get darker and more ominous and just as we reached the lip of the crater, it began to rain furiously. Just in time!

We ate simple food at Pacha Mama Hostal (soup, chicken potatoes and rice), and enjoyed our table with the Spanish speaking guests. By the time we were done and ready to go, it was pouring and visibility was limited. Our bus driver inched along the rapidly deteriorating road, and it took more than three hours to get back to Papagayo and our delicious chocolate cake, then another two hours to get back home. Quito was drenched in rain, apparently it had rained all day, and it was cold and miserable.

Our painters did a reasonable job of painting, which was a relief, but they left paint dribbles all over the floor, so I spent the next three hours on my knees scraping off the paint with fingers and a scouring pad. I guess I chose the least expensive estimate and sometimes you get what you paid for. Isabel had told me that Fidel painted all her rentals and was a professional painter, but clearly there was some misunderstanding. Attention to detail is not necessarily as important as getting the job done.

Our Israeli friend had much to say about life in Ecuador. He loves that everything is negotiable and that everything is possible even when it is impossible. There are no rules or if there are rules, they are just suggestions and everyone does what they want to do. Perhaps most significant is that Ecuadorians generally live in the moment. The past and the future are not relevant and it is today that has meaning. Sometimes living now makes the moment more intense and more real. I want to take that feeling home with me.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Avenue of the Volcanoes

Maya as Cowboy!

Last Blast!!!!There were so many choices as to how to best appreciate our last weekend in Ecuador. I had thought of Guayaquil, a city which I have always enjoyed, but have not entirely explored. I had never been to Loja, far in the south, nor to the valley of Vilcabamba where people regularly live more than a hundred years. The beach always beckons, and this time we were advised to travel to Esmeraldas in the north where the sun tends to shine at this time of year. Finally I decided that we had not seen the mountains in several weeks, and I believe I will miss the Avenue of the Volcanoes most of all when we leave.

I had made arrangements for Fidel to come to the house at 9 to start painting, but of course this is Ecuador, and he did not show up until closer to 11, but that gave me a chance to get the apartment ready for him and for Maya and I to visit Corfu for breakfast. There is very little in my refrigerator and I have made a concerted effort not to shop for much, and I have been too successful so there is nothing to eat in the house!Loving the Countryside

I had packed two small backpacks with lots of warm clothes. I had called Hosteria Papagayo, which is near Machachi, about an hour south of Quito, where I arranged to arrive in the early afternoon for a horsebackride (Maya's request for her last weekend in Ecuador) and a daylong trip to Laguna Quilotoa on Sunday. I knew that I needed to catch a bus from Quitumbe, the 'Terminal Terrestre' in the south of Quito, but I had no idea how far it was. We caught a taxi to get to the Trole stop, and our taxiste was kind enough to advise us where to catch the Trole and which one to get on. At the El Ejido stop, the number 5 Trole goes more directly to the bus station ( but not that directly, there were more than twenty stops!) It felt like forever and it did in fact take longer than an hour to get to the very modern, clean and efficient bus terminal. We truly passed through all of Quito and ended at the very southern tip. It was easy to find the boleteria and buy our tickets. We walked to a line of standing buses, each competing for our attention. They all had the same destinations (Latacunga, Ambato, Salcedo) so it was confusing to know which one to choose, someone shouting out for customers for each one. I went from one to another., finally settled on one of them. I was reassured when I asked the driver about stopping 2 kilometers past the Peaje at Machachi, and he immediately mentioned Papagayo. We left almost immediately and it took less than an hour to get to our destination. It was thrilling to see the mountains all around us, topped with snow after the past rainy cold days. The sky was blue and the hills were green and lush. When we disembarked however, it began to rain and the 800 metres to the hosteria were messy. The sky blackened and we arrived just before the downpour.

The hosteria is a 200 year old hacienda once owned by the family of the wife of Mariscal Sucre, had been abandoned for a time, and passed through several owners before becoming the base for 'Gulliver Travel', which specializes in organizing climbs to Cotopaxi. Corazon, the Ilinizas and more. The place was full of very serious climbers, with all sorts of gear and several exhausted travelers curled up on the couches. When I climbed to the Cotopaxi Refugio and glacier with Deborah and Mel, we had stopped at the Papagayo for chocolate cake on our way home, so I was familiar with the place. It is comfortable and relaxed, a step up from a hostel, but not quite a hotel.

Psychotropic Flower

Our room was big with a fireplace (necessary as it got colder). Our horses were ready to go, so we missed lunch, and we snacked on 'Spitzbuben' that we picked up at Cyrano's. Alan, dressed in llama chaps and looking very much the cowboy, was waiting for us. The skies cleared momentarily, so we crossed our fingers and mounted 'Caramelo' and 'Joseph' and left the Papgayo. For a few minutes, the mountains were visible, the Ilinizas full of snow, Corazon clear in the distance, Guagua and Rucu Pichincha dusted with snow. Cotopaxi was invisible. I did not think to photograph anything, it was simply too beautiful and breathtaking for those moments, and then the clouds descended and gradually all the mountains disappeared and the rain began. We walked and then cantered for a while, but had to slow down and slog through the big puddles of water. Three yellow labs joined us along the way. At one point we passed a reservoir and one of the puppies fell in and could not climb out because plastic sheeting covered the sides. Alan had to rescue the dog; it would have drowned if not pulled out, since there was no way for it to successfully get out of the water. We continued to a big field where ordinarily all the mountains are visible; Cotopaxi, the Pichinchas, Corazon Ruminahui, and more. We had to be satisfied with just imagining their presence, and even covered with clouds, their power was palpable.

Rescuing the Dog

High Amongst the Mountains

No View of Mountains

Our ride back in the rain was tolerable, but I was looking forward to a fire, and unfortunately we were told that we could not have a fire until 6 PM. I got into the shower, which I could hardly feel because I was so cold, and there was only a choice between very hot and very cold. I chose hot but I am not sure I could tell if it was hot or cold. Once showered and changed, we were offered a most amazing and luscious chocolate cake with tea. I remembered it from our Cotopaxi trip.

Tromping in the Mud

On Our Walk

We were much happier when the fire was blazing in our room and we could dry our clothes and warm up next to the flames. I left the fire going half the night, but it felt good to have a window open with fresh air too. We snuggled in our double bed to stay warm and I could not keep my eyes open past 10!

Riding in the Rain

No Visible Mountains

Friday, July 9, 2010

Goodbye Quito

It took far to long today to make a decision about who would paint the apartment, how much would be painted, what colour was to be used, who would buy the paint, when it would be done, how much to pay, etc etc. Maria recommended the painter who did a great job on her house, but he got lost finding our place (went to Suiza instead of Suecia) and in the interim Isabel recommended Fidel, who cleans her house and is a professional painter, and would give me a good price. He came over and agreed that the walls looked good, but suggested that it is usual for owners to expect a renter to paint before leaving. When Maria's referral came by, he did not feel that anything but the baseboards needed painting. The maintenance man from the apartment, who had originally painted the place before we moved in, suggested a price fully four times that of Antonio and Fidel.

Finally, I agreed to have Fidel come tomorrow after buying the paint (I gave his son Gustavo the leftover paint when I did not feel the apartment needed painting so he has a sample of the right colour). Later I received a message from Gustavo saying he would come by and help paint as well. I gave Fidel my key and hope to be gone for the weekend so as not to have to breathe in the fumes, but Maria had originally agreed to take a trip to the Avenue of the Volcanoes for the weekend but by the end of the day decided she was too tired to join me, so Maya and I will have to decide in the morning how to organize our last weekend. I had wanted desperately to return to Quilotoa, which was clouded over when Eric, Maya and I visited. I thought the drive was stunningly beautiful, and wanted to take it slower and appreciate it more. Of course the weather is not very friendly as of late, and it will likely be awfully cold and there is a good chance the lake will be clouded over again, but I still want to try to get there. The bus ride is endlessly long, but may be an opportunity to appreciate the countryside (the journey is the destination). There is a wonderful ecolodge nearby, but it is entirely booked for the weekend, so we may end up traveling for the day only. Decisions, decisions.

Maya and I finally went to visit Isabel, whom we had not seen, for all sorts of reasons, for months. She was busy preparing for her son's graduation party, to be held at the Marriott with 300 guests. We caught up with our lives and arranged for a lunch date with the whole family on Tuesday, the day Maya and I leave. I chose Costeño food, since Isabel is from Manabi, and now that I have spent some time on the coast I have decided that I like coastal food best.

Maya had her last violin lesson, except that we did not feel ready for it to be the last one and we arranged for another on Monday. She had her last orchestra practice, but will see all her music friends again on Monday when she has her last concert. We visited her ballet school to leave some DVD's and say goodbye, but we were there too early and saw no close friends and will have to try again next week.

I had been to Mi Commisariato and Megamaxi yesterday, likely for the last time, searching for cleaning materials that Gustavo had insisted he needed for the apartment. I bought some fruit from the local market, and was cheated again, but this time I looked at my bill immediately and questioned the error before leaving the store and I was finally able to prove that the salesclerk had charged me exceessively. This happens quite regularly, and usually I figure it out when I am back in the apartment, but I am prepared for the errors now (finally) and am able to catch them right away. Even when I showed her the error, she still tried to give me a dollar less, and I had to embarrass her further by insisting on the entire amount owed. I wonder that I keep returning to the same shop knowing that about 80 percent of the time she is trying to steal from me!

Maya and I decided to have a night in the Centro Historico. Our first taxi had no taximeter and wanted $7 for the ride. When I pointed out that it costs less than $3, he booted us out of the car. We found a legitimate cab a few minutes later, who used his taximeter and arrived at our destination at under $3 so I felt exonerated. I truly know the cost of a cab ride almost anywhere, and can argue knowing I am right. It is still exhausting to be always on the lookout for inaccuracies and intentional efforts to take advantage of my gringo status.

We watched folkloric dance in the Archbishop's Palace and then walked to 'La Ronda', probably for the last time. Maya found a theatre with more folkloric dance by another company called Humanizarte, which has a venue in the Mariscal each Wednesday night but now also dances Friday nights in La Ronda. Music was overflowing everywhere and the street and restaurants were packed. I was so sad that when I brought Deborah and Rebecca and Werner on a Monday night, the place was dead, and they were so unimpressed. The energy is entirely different on a Friday night!

Great Hot Chocolate

Maya insisted on trying 'canelazo', the warm drink with naranjilla juice and sugar cane alcohol. I asked for a very small amount of alcohol, and I was surprised that she liked it and kept asking to drink more. We wandered in and out of the shops and the bars and the restaurants, and tried an amazing cup of hot chocolate made with a bar of exquisite dark chocolate. La Ronda is absolutely the best place to be on a weekend night. I felt that we were saying goodbye from morning until night all through the day, but not very well. Nothing felt final. Everyone that we said goodbye to, we arranged to see again next week. I suppose we are not very good at letting go, of making it final. Except I think this may be it for La Ronda, but we may want to return to buy more chocolate. Perhaps I won't say goodbye to anyone. It will have to be 'hasta luego'.