Saturday, January 31, 2009

Five More Months to Go

It is January 31 and in five months I will be leaving my life here in Baltimore and moving to Ecuador. I am not sure this change feels real to me yet. I feel panicky. How can I organize my house and ready it for sale, how can I say goodbye to all my patients and transition them to a new psychiatrist, how can I take care of the myriad of tasks necessary to make this happen. My panic escalates. I am overwhelmed.

I have not wanted to face selling the house. Not having a home to return to frightens me. I feel my heart rate increase as I write these words. I have been hoping for some sort of miracle so I do not have to face this. I buy lottery tickets when I remember to, of course I am aware that the chance of winning millions of dollars is infintisimally small. My husband is more practical. He works with the numbers on a spreadsheet and the answer is obvious...we must sell to make the year in Ecuador possible.

I remind myself that we have been talking about downsizing for the past two years. Since one of my daughters is in college and most likely will not come home to live, our house has become far too large for the three of us ( and two, perhaps only one dog). We congregate in the kitchen, occasionally the dining room, and most evenings and nights all five of us sleep in the master bedroom, staying close for warmth and companionship and togetherness. Most of this lovely 1905 home is empty and it has made sense to find a smaller more intimate place anyway.

I have wanted to move closer to downtown Baltimore. I am a city person, and although officially I do live in the city, the area around my home feels like suburbia, or at least a city-like suburbia...and so selling the house to find a rowhouse closer to Hopkins and the city makes sense too.

I must appreciate every day in this house, for it will not be my house for long. I moved here from Salt Lake City a few weeks after I married Eric. He chose the house with his parents, and when I arrived, the house was torn up and characterless. We camped out in the sunroom for the first six months while it was renovated. I was mourning the loss of my life out west and did not adjust well to Baltimore. The house did not feel as if it was mine, and it took several years to feel connected to the house. I was also grieving the loss of my beloved house in Salt Lake, and my friends and my former life. Eric was away alot the first few years, burrowing himself in his lab. Over time, the house became my house, more a reflection of myself and my life and now it is mine and I will struggle letting it go. I am sad that it took so long to appreciate what I had.

We had friends over for dinner this evening. I love making dinner and entertaining, both big bashes and more intimate affairs. The house works well for all sorts of events. Houseguests are always welcome, as are parties and smaller dinner parties and sleepovers and family affairs. I plan to enjoy every day that I have left in this house, every day is the last time.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Yoga in the Jungle

Several months ago I learned my intolerable back pain was caused by the loss of a disc at L5-S1 and that surgery was a matter of not if but when. When it appeared that surgery was my only choice, I discovered that the pain was in fact tolerable and I was compelled to look for alternative ways to manage my pain. I tried yoga, and found that when I was consistent with yoga practice, I felt better and could be more active. I began going to a very intense power yoga class close to my work and have been addicted to the class ever since. My yoga instructor is Sid, his studio is donation based, and the yoga he teaches is tough and exhausting and I feel wonderful after a class. It is hot yoga, and the room starts out hot and with the sweating bodies the heat increases as the class progresses. After several months, I am still a beginner, but am impressed with what my body can do and how it improves each week. I am inspired by Sid, not only because of how he can coax my body to do unimaginable contortions, but also because of his calm and quirky imparting of basic truths. Everything feels possible in the hour and a half in that stifling room; world peace, joy, happiness, acceptance, laughter; one can be in the moment and nothing outside of the mat matters. I have brought Tara to the class and she has become a devoted fan. Maya comes with me on occasion and is truly an inspiration; her lithe young body can move so much more freely, or perhaps she is a yogi from her reincarnated past.

For six weeks, when I was just starting my yoga journey, I participated in a special program with Sid. We tried to practice yoga five or more times a week, we meditated daily, we tried to modify our diets and we met and talked about our lives once a week. I succeeded at my main goal, which was to intensify my yoga practice. My efforts at meditation were abysmal; that is my next goal....

I talked about my plan to leave my home and my work and my life in Baltimore and to move to Ecuador without much of a plan and limited purpose. I expressed my fears and my anticipation. I felt supported and encouraged by the group and was reassured that what I was doing was not entirely outrageous.

When I returned from Ecuador and told Sid about my experience in the jungle, we began to talk about setting up a yoga retreat in the Amazon. Eric and I discussed it when I got home, and suddenly everything was possible and I am excited about putting this together and returning to Sacha and bringing yoga to the jungle.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dog Whispering

Pippi is still dying. I have decided not to hasten his death. He eats and poops and walks upstairs and wags his tail when I come home. When he walked outside yesterday he and rolled in the snow and expressed so much joy, so I feel reassured about my decision. I really had no idea what to do when I came home from Ecuador. The dog-sitter had arranged for him to be euthanized the day after I arrived. My oldest daughter was horrified that I would even consider such a thing, and wanted to see him and spend some time with him before he dies. I canceled the appointment with the vet and started asking questions.

I learned that I am not a dog person. I have two dogs and I enjoy their company, but I do not sleep with the dogs or spend a significant amount of time attending to them. I feed them, I let them out, I feel comforted by their presence, but I pay a limited amount of attention to them. I am incredibly lucky to have two kind and gentle and loving dogs. Elmer chewed alot until about six months ago, and I was very frustrated with him for a long time, but I have forgiven him.

I was told that my dog will show me when he is ready to go, that I will intuitively KNOW. For now, I have not got the message from him or any message for that matter. I don't have a clue when the right time is. I can see that he has aged noticeably since we left for a week at Christmas. He suddenly looks like an old and wizened man. Since we came home from Ecuador, it is clear that he has tumours all over his body and open sores which he chews at constantly. Luckily he has this wonderful whitish coat which covers up alot, so he is not too unsightly unless one looks more closely. I decided when I saw that he could climb up and down the stairs without much difficulty, that he was not as far gone as I had feared, and now that I have been home for more than a week, I have an easier time ignoring how awful he looks. I don't want to touch him much because eveything looks so painful.

My daughter did not come home on the weekend to see him or to say goodbye. I did not want to leave the house much, knowing that his days were numbered. I wanted to take photos of him, but he is truly unsightly and was once such a handsome dog, I do not want to remember him this way. By not doing anything I have made a choice.

Snow January 28

I love snow, I love watching it fall, I love when the ground is covered with snow. And I welcome snowstorms. It is amusing to be in Baltimore during a snowstorm, when the city shuts down and the schools are off and businesses closed. My car was frozen this morning. It was covered with ice several millimeters thick so that I could not scrape the ice off the windows. I warmed up the car and waited, unable to see out the windows for 45 minutes. I believe that my Prius does not really warm up like the usual sort of car....finally I could scrape off the ice chunks and drive. The roads were empty, slippery, icy, treacherous, but driving slowly and deliberately works. I chose roads without hills so I took the longer way to my office. I stopped at Starbucks for my triple macchiato and when I returned to the car, the door was frozen shut. I panicked for a moment wondering what I would do if I could not get the door open.

The coffee warmed me up, and I arrived at my office to find that half my patients had canceled for the day. Most businesses were closed and anyone I spoke to was fearful of driving. I had a quiet contemplative day and accomplished alarming amounts of paperwork. Snow days are peaceful and gentle and nurturing and they are a treat when they happen.

Children love the snow. My daughter excitedly dresses in her snowpants, snowboots, and other snow attire and is ready to play at dawn. My dog wags his tail and rolls over in the snow and wants to play. Even Pippi, who is dying, ran around in circles when he went outside.

It is curious to be at 9000 feet in Quito encircled by higher mountains and no snow in sight. We climbed to 12000 feet and more and still saw no snow. There are high mountains which do have snow at their tips, like Cayambe and Cotopaxi. But because the country is at the equator, snow is not part of the Ecuadorian experience. The weather is relatively constant, the seasons do not change-- there is in fact a dry season and a wet season, both in the jungle and in the high Andes, and when it is dry in the jungle it is wet in the Andes and when wet in the jungle it is dry in the Andes. We were in the jungle during the dry season, but it rained alot this past year, and it rained almost daily when we traveled through the highlands.

Quito is known to have comfortable weather, never too cold or too hot. My experience in January is that one must have several layers which can be peeled off as necessary. It can rain in the morning, be sunny an hour later, change again several times during one day. I do not believe that we will ever have a snowstorm while we live there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I realized after I wrote yesterday that I was struggling with my own sense of place. I have lived my adult life in a country in which I am a foreigner. When I flew in from Quito through Miami, I endured three hours in immigration, almost missing my flight with the students back to Baltimore. I have become very familiar with the alien experience in the United States, especially since 9/11.

Of course growing up Canadian is different but not so different from growing up American. But then, growing up in Canada was for me an alien experience as well. My parents came to Canada from Germany and Italy in 1956, and embraced the Canadian experience fully. When I was five we moved to Italy for only a few years, but returning to Canada afterward was awkward for me and my sisters. I never truly felt Canadian, so it was not difficult to move to Southern California and then to Salt Lake City. I blended in without effort, but was always a foreigner. I have a Canadian passport, but I do not feel Canadian. I am not connected to Canada, I do not yearn for any particular place in Canada. I miss my parents and wish I lived closer to them and love visiting them at Christmas and summertime. Both my sisters have struggled with this sense of place, of belonging to a place or country. One of my sisters chose to live in Italy and France and another in Cyprus-France-England-Germany and now California and Boston. We have all found ourselves displaced, in foreign lands, trying to connect, to belong to a place. 

I live in Baltimore because my husband has a position at Johns Hopkins. I have never liked or disliked the city, but it is where I live and I enjoy all it has to offer. If I had a choice, if I had all the money in the world, I would not live here. I don't belong to any place; I am connected to people, to friends, to family, but they are scattered all over the place.

It is not difficult to imagine moving to Ecuador. I am a foreigner there as much as I am a foreigner here, and I am accustomed to being a foreigner. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pride of Place

What struck me during this visit to Ecuador was the pride expressed by so many Ecuadorians. Erika was struggling with her plan to study in Syracuse for her Masters degree. This is something that she had devoted much time and effort to organize and is advantageous for her career. But leaving Ecuador for any length of time is difficult for her. She will miss her family, and her boyfriend has a position at another university in Ohio or somewhere else in the midwest. Erika plans to take her dog with her (when she stayed with us last year to work with Eric, she missed her dog most of all). When we visited the Capilla de Hombre in Quito with Erika and her family, Erika began to cry, and soon her mother was crying too. The painful images of Guayasamin evoked so much sadness, I was feeling the weight of so much despair and I wanted to cry too . I asked Erika what was going on and her response was that she will miss her country, that she really does not want to be anywhere else but in Ecuador, with her family and her people.

I met a young woman, Maria Louisa, who was studying in Puerto Allegro in Brazil. She was the daughter of Ximena, a friend of a couple I knew in Baltimore. Maya and I spent an afternoon with them in their home with  their three dogs. Maya was thrilled to play with the Akido, the bulldog and the yorkie. I asked lost of questions  about schools and what it was like to live in Quito. The husband, Mauricio, was a musician and a music teacher at SEK, one of the schools I was interested in  looking at for Maya. Maria Louisa expressed such pride about her country, in its history and its variety and its very different regions and people. She felt that while in Quito, we should go exploring every weekend to experience all the different possibilities in and around the city, that we will be thrilled and excited by all that we will see. It was wonderful to hear Maria Lousia talk about how she felt about Ecuador. She truly believed that there is no better place to live than in Quito.

I am not sure I liked our guide Jorge. He was never accurately translating Spanish. He edited and altered all that he heard and when he did not like what was said,  he just told us what he wanted to hear. That aside, it was delightful to hear him talk about his country and its history. He was one of the people who was insistent that Ecuadorian history began long before the Incas or the Spaniards and was eager for us to learn this and feel it and know it. 

Ecuador is rich in history and in stories and it has colour and energy. It is a small country, limited in size and population, but there is much to see and do and learn from . I think our time there will be interesting and exciting. I hope that all of our friends and family will have the opportunity to visit us while we are living there.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I was struggling with finishing my lecture on the Incas, so Eric suggested that I talk about 'synchretism', the merging of  disparate cultures, and that there are no heroes in the story or the conquest. I talked about sychncretism in the review of pre-Columbian Ecuador too, in an effort to describe the melding of pre-Inca and Inca cultures. During this recent visit to Ecuador, heroes appeared regularly. There is Ruiminahui, the Inca general who refused to surrender to the Spanish and hid the Inca gold so well, it was never found. He razed Quito to prevent the Spaniards from taking the city. I remember when he was immortalized on the 1000 sucre bill, and there are several statues of him, with his proud and grim 'stoneface'. I believe the Ecuadorians remain fiercely proud of his resistance to the Spanish conquest and his success in holding them off in Quito. When he burned Quito to the ground, he also killed all those who chose not to escape with him. The legend is that he hid the gold from Quito somewhere in the Llanganati mountains, and that the gold has never been found.

I was reminded several times that the Incas ruled in Ecuador for less than 100 years, that the cultures that existed before the Incas were sophisticated and in fact had much to offer to the conquering empire. The Quitu-Caras had figured out that they lived at the equator, that the earth was tilted on its axis, and were able to calculate the angle of the tilt. They created complicated lunar and solar calendars to aid with agriculture and religious ceremonies. The huge mounds at Cochasqui were hidden from the Incas and then the Spanish by two metres of dirt and grass.

Many of the tribes in Ecuador resisted the Incas. Unfortunately for them, in their zeal to rid themselves of the Inca, many groups allied themselves with the Spanish. The Canaris, a tribe from the southern part of the Ecuadorian highlands were particularly unhappy with the Inca and eager to help Pizarro and his conquistadors. My understanding is that the Spanish were able to defeat the Inca for several reasons; disease had already devastated significant numbers of the indigenous people, guns and steel overcame arrows and stone weapons, but most significantly, there were large numbers of dissatisfied subjects of the Inca empire, who were eager to help the Spaniards. Recent archeological digs have revealed that most of the Indians killed at the time at the conquest were not victims of Spanish weapons, but of stone maces. It is clear that most of the battles engaged Indian against Indian. The Spaniards succeeded in the conquest because they were able to exploit the divisions in the Inca empire, those between the conquered tribes and the Incas as well as the rival factions supporting Huascar versus Atahualpa.

I used the term synchretism to describe the merging of pre-Inca and Inca cultures. The Inca were skilled at learning what they could from the tribes they conquered, and not necessarily imposing all their beliefs on the conquered. They insisted on worship of their Sun God, but usually allowed those they conquered to worship their own gods too. Sometimes, they agreed to worship the gods of those they absorbed into their empire, such as Pachacamac and Viracocha. 

The Spaniards were quite dismissive of the cultures they conquered and tried to impose their religion and culture on the local people . They were successful in that the local people are all Catholic . But their worship is a combination of Catholic and more ancient beliefs. There is a merging of pre-columbian and Spanish. When we visited the shaman, his chanting was all about Mary and Jesus Christ, but also his ancestors and other more ancient spirits. Ecuador is neither a Spanish country nor a native one, rather it is a combination of indigenous, Spanish, ancient and new.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Precolumbian Ecuador

Something has changed about the way Ecuadorians perceive themselves, or at least present themselves. It is easy to think of the biggest empire of South America when one thinks of Ecuador. I  chose to lecture on the Incas and the Conquistadors for the course, because their story was exciting and compelling and accessible. I added the pre-Inca history and cultures this year, and it is interesting that during this trip, I heard from Ecuadorians repeatedly, that the history of Ecuador started over 10,000 years before the Incas ruled for less than a hundred years, that the soul of Ecuador is and was established long before the Inca came. Twice I heard stated with pride and irritation that the Quichua in Ecuador was quite different than the Quechua in Peru, that it was older and more pure in some way and defined a different people. This despite the fact that the Incas established Quechua (or Quichua) as the lingua franca of the empire.

It was exciting reading and learning about the many precolumbian cultures in Ecuador. I had known they existed because I had spent many hours at the museum at the Banco Central in Quito, which has an amazing collection of ceramics and art from prehistory through to the colonial times. Eric and I had also visited Cochasqui on our trip without the students four years ago. But the most astonishing and eye opening experience for me was the first time I took the motorized canoe ride down the Napo River from Coca. Oscar was our guide, and he suggested that we stop on the left side of the river at Pompeia and check out the museum run by the Capuchines. It was raining furiously that day and getting out of the boat along the riverbank was muddy and slippery and I remember feeling that I really did not want to get any wetter or muddier than I already was. We were ushered into a courtyard where beautiful flowers and birds had installed themselves. I was overwhelmed when we entered the 'museum' part. I could not believe that what I saw had been found in the forest by the locals and brought to the religious order. Remarkable ceramics with intricate designs, suggesting a sophisticated and civilized culture, certainly not reflective of the primitive Amazonians I had expected.

The museum was no longer there the next year that I came down the river on the way to Sacha.. Apparently the museum had been moved to Quito. I presumed that everything was in the Banco Central, but when I looked for the pieces I had seen, I did not find them there. I wonder who is studying them and when they will again be on display.

It was my visit to that Capuchine museum in Pompeia which had opened my eyes and my mind to the world before the Incas and the Spaniards. So little is known about the cultures of the Amazonian precolumbians, but clearly they were civilized and had a unique culture and highly developed art. When Orellana and his group floated down the Amazon to the sea, their priest recorded what were considered fantastical descriptions of golden cities and crowds of people along the river. No one ever found the glistening cities, and the people disappeared, probably due to disease. I read that 95% of the Amazonian population died of disease brought by the Spaniards. The tribes that remained retreated further into the jungle.

I paid more attention to the early history of Ecuador this time, and I found that the Ecuadorian guides were focussed more now on highlighting the richness of Ecuadorian history before they were conquered by the Inca and the Spaniards. I wondered if there is a political campaign going on to educate the Ecuadorians about their past and instill pride and a sense of accomplishment. Our visit to the museum at the 'true' Mitad del Mundo was all about the sophistication of the Quitu-Caras and their knowledge about astronomy and mathematical measurements regarding the axis of the earth and the soltices and equinoxes. No word about the conquering Incas, except that they learned all they knew from those who came before them. Essentially all that I had read and presented to the class was reiterated by our Ecuadorian guides.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Medicinal Plants

The first time I visited the jungle, Eric and I spent a day in the jungle with Ernesto, a specialist in medicinal plants. The Amazonian Indians found treatments and cures for most of their ailments in the jungle. We could not walk far without encountering several treatment options. At the time, I took photographs and Eric took notes, but we never coordinated the photos and the notes, so when we return, we must try again, and take it far more seriously.

I was impressed with the broad range of treatments available to the natives. Cruz Caspi is the tree which is used as a contraceptive, and can sterilize a woman for a year with as little as two cups of tea for three days. Garlic Vine is used to cure symptoms of colds and the flu. Dragon's blood treats cuts, burns, spots, fungal infections ulcers and bleeding gums. Chiri caspi is used to ease post-natal pains and toothaches. Chuchuwaso treats arthritic pains. Wild Cocoa is used as an antidote against bites of the fer-de-lance. Cat's claw has tumour inhibiting properties. Ayahuasca is a hallucinogen and is used mostly by shamans when they are seeking an altered state.

Maya has a rash on her legs and keeps asking me to find a way to relieve her discomfort. I imagine that if I was in the jungle, I would ask Ernesto what to use, and he would pause for a moment and walk out a little ways through the trees and bushes and pull up a leaf or a vine, boil it and then apply it to her legs and she will be cured. I am sure the jungle has an answer for her. She is very dissapointed that I have no diagnosis or cure. Clearly she has a contact dermatitis and is allergic to something, perhaps the soap I am using...and I hope it just goes away. But my answers are dissatisfying to her, and I have nothing to offer her to ease her discomfort. In the jungle I would ask Ernesto, and he would know what to do.

We are back on track with our lives in Baltimore. I met my dear friend Emily and learned she was planning a summer sabbatical in Australia, which sounds wonderful. I believe my year in Ecuador will work out well. I just don't like losing my life and not having anything to return to. Emily understands, which was such a relief to me. I will have to look for alternative possibilities.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fearing Change

I need to remind myself that this is an adventure, a choice that I have made and an experience that will prove to be life altering. I do not want my fears to overwhelm me. The greatest fear is being disconnected from all that I know, of losing myself and not being able to come back to the life I know. Not that I necessarily want to return to my life. I look forward to change and moving on. I have worked as a psychiatrist for twenty-five years. I have seen patients every day, have listened to their stories, tried to find solutions, felt their joy and their despair, rejoiced and commiserated, and never tired of it. I am finding it difficult to let these people go, I am holding on... I need to tell all my patients of my impending departure, I am compelled to find them a new physician so they will not feel abandoned, and am pleased to have found a nurse practitioner who will be a good fit for many. I hope that the transition will go well, I am not anticipating too much difficulty, I have limited anxiety about my professional life.

It is selling my house that scares me most. I feel secure having a home to return to. I love to get away, travel, explore, adventure, but I also love coming home, having a place to belong to. The house is a tether , a foundation for our lives here. If we sell it, I feel I have nothing to return to, I will be unable to return if I no longer have a home. My husband does not understand that. His solution is practical; we cannot afford to live in Ecuador and maintain our house here. It is logical, makes sense, the numbers are convincing. But I cannot imagine not having the house. We had a 'stager' come to the house and tell us what to do to prepare it to sell. Eric had two real estate agents look at the house and both were eager to get the house on the market as soon as possible. I could not bear to meet either of them. I believe they expected the house to be ready to market in early January. Of course, it is now a month later and we have done nothing to prepare it to sell.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Letting Go

I am unaccustomed to putting my toilet paper in the toilet. It lands there and I pause, confused and feeling guilty. Was I supposed to put it in the toilet? So much toilet paper, will the toilet plug? Odd how just two weeks in Ecuador has affected my bathroom routine. I am hoping the experience trains me to use less paper. I have no trouble using tap water to brush my teeth. I kept forgetting to use bottled water to brush my teeth in Ecuador and just automatically brushed them the usual way, only to stop halfway through and realize my mistake and then just decide to finish, thinking it was too late to do anything about it. And no matter that I resolved to use bottled water the next time, I would find myself with toothpaste in my mouth before I'd remember. Sometimes, the only water I would find in a bottle was mineral water 'con gaz', and I discovered how delicious brushing teeth with bubbly water could be. I cannot imagine spending a year using bottled water for my toilet and never watching paper swirl down the toilet.

I read a book that a close friend sent to me called 'Culture Shock-Ecuador'. It scared me! So much that could go wrong in Ecuador; diseases that are fatal, food that is dangerous to eat, trouble that 'gringos' can find themselves in . Page after page of horror stories. Descriptions of levels of danger and levels of alertness. My impression from the book was that one must be on orange or red alert at all times. Odd that while in Ecuador I do not feel that way at all, I feel safe and comfortable. Will that all change when I live there? Will I truly be a target for criminals and those who wish to take advantage of me? Ecuadorians seem so kind and considerate. Do they prefer tourists to those who actually decide to live in their country. I am certain that learning Spanish more fluently will make a huge difference. I understand alot but am often tongue-tied and confused about how to express myself. Silence and telling everyone I do not speak the language helps. It is frustrating when I do in fact understand everything and realize how poorly the language is translated. I was irritated with our guide in Quito and the Highlands who kept editing everything that he was supposed to translate and would change the meaning of what we were told according to his set of beliefs. Did he know that I knew that he was not translating accurately? Did he know that I understood more that I let on? The language issue worries me. I have never lived in a country where I did not speak the local language. Eric assures me that I will pick it up in no time. I certainly hope so.

Eric is finding electric fish in the jungle and that makes him happy. He was struggling in Sacha lodge because his fish were elusive and difficult to find. I believe it was because the water was so high, the fish could hide safely away from the more open areas. We hunted for fish at night in the creeks that flowed out of Pilchicocha and were frustrated at finding far fewer than we had in the past. Eric is now at a research station in Yasuni National Park. I have never been there. It is in the area where the Houarani live. The Houarani have only recently made contact with the west and are very different than the other Indians along the Napo. They are wilder and their moral code is different than ours. I would love to spend time with them and learn about their culture, but they are described as dangerous and unpredictable.

Back in my home again, I have list of things to do to prepare to sell my house. We must sell to make the year in Ecuador financially possible. I am resistant to selling because I do not want to have no home to come back to. This move is difficult anyway. I will leave my practice, my friends, my way of life and my home. I will lose my foundation, my bearings, and be rudderless, rootless, disconnected, lost. I feel incapable of assisting in the process of selling what gives me a sense of security. Eric does not feel that way at all, for him it is just a house, he'll buy another one when we return, a house is just wood and clay and gives us shelter. I think he will do the work because he does not feel he is dismantling a part of himself. And so I sit and look around me and I tell myself to do something and move forward with a project and then I hesitate and pull back. I cannot do this, I am not ready to move on.

And Pippi is still dying. I am waiting for Tara to be with him and say her goodbyes. She has rehearsals in New York, so coming to Baltimore for closure with her dog may not fly with her director. I hope she comes and shares the experience with us. Maya has put it out of her mind. She had her first day back at school in two weeks and was excited to see her teachers and friends. Pippi is quiet and affectionate and still eating and coming upstairs to sleep near us and lick his wounds. I am not sure how much he is suffering. How can I tell? He does not pay attention to Elmer who seems depressed. Elmer is three years old and Pippi is the alpha dog. Elmer is sleeping more than usual and staying in his crate even when there is no reason to do so. He seems less interested in play. Do dogs know what is is going on? Does he know he will lose his companion? Is Pippi shutting him out so he feels rejected? Elmer's eyes are getting sad too, but not as sad as Pippi's. How will Elmer manage without Pippi? How will all of us do without Pippi?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Home Again

Home again. My dog is dying. He had an appointment today to be euthanized( his dogsitter felt that he was deteriorating and it was advisable to put him out of his misery), but I could not go through with it. I am not ready, my daughters are not ready. We will spend some days saying good-bye and spoiling him and loving him, and make a decision when we are ready. He looks unwell, but he is happy to see us, and he still eats and sleeps and goes outside and cuddles with us. I am not sure how one decides these things. When is it the right time to ease a dog of his suffering? Pippi is an integral part of our lives. Twelve years is a long time. He has been an extraordinarily easy dog to have. He was eight weeks old when he became Tara's dog. He spent the first several months of his life in my office in a crate under my desk. He accustomed himself to my patients and mostly they enjoyed his presence. I recall vividly his wildly wagging tail when I took the leash out to walk him. He liked walking in the mountains near our house in Salt Lake City and traveled to Baltimore in a huge crate and sad eyes when we moved. He had particularly sad eyes, which became more expressive when I was packing bags for a trip and he knew that he would go to the kennel or the sitter. I was convinced for years that he understood us when we spoke...perhaps he did. He began wandering away from the house these past years; I wondered if he was losing his memory or just going off for an adventure. Sometimes someone in the house would let him out to do his business and would forget him and we would get a phonecall a while later from a neighbour or a stranger that he had showed up at their house and become part of a new family. I could not get too angry at him when I picked him up with his sad eyes. He became more quiet over the years and has had less and less energy these last months. He sleeps most of the day and eats less. I have found myself tearful and incredibly sad today. I am not ready to face life without my dog.

Maya is awfully worried too. I am not sure she understands what is happening with the dog. We rushed home to see him and hold him and play with him, but I don't think he was impressed with our attentions. He just did what he always does and life just continued as it usually does on a Tuesday night. Maya had a contemporary ballet class and I had my weekly ballet class, and then it was home and bath and violin and bed. Pippi sleeps next to the bed in my room. If Maya is sleeping in her room, he lays by her. She is sleeping with me tonight while my husband is researching mildly electric fish in the Amazon jungle. Elmer, our other much younger lab, is sleeping by Pippi and they are both snoring and farting and sighing in their sleep.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Leaving Ecuador

I slept about two and a half hours last night!!!! And I am still awake, catching up with news and everything I have missed these past two weeks. Today is Martin Luther King Day and the night before Inauguration Day. I missed a dynamic concert at Lincoln Memorial in DC and am enjoying the music and all the excitement about this momentous occasion via HBO. I wonder if I would have attended the event if I had the chance. Many people from Baltimore are traveling to DC tomorrow to join the celebration. Maya's school day is canceled to mark the occasion.

I had hoped to sleep during the plane ride today, but Maya was awake and energetic and busy. The trip was complicated by a three hour visit to immigration in Miami. My green card was stolen four or five years ago and someone else must be using it and the authorities need to check that I am legitimate. What I do not understand is why they do not catch the person using my card unlawfully and record permanently that with my fingerprints and iris scan I am who I am. I did ask what could be done to prevent this occurring so frequently and was told that they were doing this for my protection. It makes no sense and angers me. I had all the students waiting for me and wondering what had happened. Maya was distraught and tearful. As an alien, I am not well treated. We are herded into a room packed full of waiting travelers, we sit on torn up chairs and watch one or two immigration officers crawl through the piles of cases on their desks. When I ask any questions, I am told to sit down and wait. Whether I miss a flight or have a child waiting is not their concern. I cannot use my cellphone or computer or drink or eat or go to the bathroom. There is a sense of threat in the room; if I object or pressure them in any way, my experience will worsen. I am reminded that I have no rights in this country. I pay taxes and contribute much too --- taxation without representation.

I was worried that our drive back from Reagan International Airport to Baltimore would be horribly slow because of traffic associated with the Inauguration event. Truly it was not as awful as I expected. The students piled into vans and were whisked off to Johns Hopkins. I hardly said goodbye to any of them. So much closeness and togetherness for twelve days and such incredible experience and then everyone is off to their lives...I wonder about the impact of this trip on their view of the world.

I learned that my dog Pippi has been unwell and is likely fighting cancer and may need to be euthanized tomorrow. I am feeling so very sad. I love Pippi, he has been part of my life for twelve years. Tara and Maya have grown up with Pippi. He has been good and gentle and obedient and loving and steady and all who have known him have loved him. He has been looking unwell since we returned from Canada after Christmas. I knew that I would have to face this, but I suppose when it happens, one feels unprepared. I have many tears; tears have come, are coming, are here now. I must decide whether my nine year old should be part of this, how to say goodbye, how to be peaceful about his death.

Returning to Quito, 18 January 2009

I was worried because one of the students had not enjoyed yesterday. I was not sure how to make his last day interesting. We started off with a walk to over 10,000 feet to Cuicocha, which is a lake in the center of a volcano. The two islands in the middle of the lake look like guinea pigs. There is no life in the lake, but around the lake live spectacled bears and condors, but we saw neither during our walk and wander around the park. Imbabura and Cotacachi were somewhat visible and improved in visibility throughout the day. The weather actually became more and more clear and warm as the day progressed.

We checked out guinea pig on a stick a the side of the road. Guinea pig is expensive and not eaten that much. No one in the group wanted to taste any.

We stopped by Cotocachi, which specialized in leather goods. I wanted to shop more but did not. I take too long to decide what to buy, so I am not particularly successful, but I did find a interesting case for my computer!

The highlight of our day was the ‘Vaca Loca”, which Eric had requested. We ate at Molina San Juan, and before our lunch, a young indigenous fellow wrapped a green towel around his head and went to work. It was a crazy awesome experience with a man inside a wooden/paper cow, with fireworks attached to the cow, which went off sequentially. Fireworks were flying around and aiming for the students, who were running out of the way of the fire and screaming. Maya was scared and remained traumatized for hours. Most people thought it was thrilling and loved it. It was shocking to see the fireworks aimed at the students, it was dangerous but also amusing. Apparently this is done quite regularly here in Ecuador at big feasts and celebrations.

Good spirits continued at the Rose Plantation, which was smaller than the one we went to last year. After oil, roses are a huge part of the Ecuadorian economy. Roses grow on the equator all year long, which makes them a great industry for the area. I find it most interesting that the Russians like their roses with meter long stems and open flowers, while the Americans like their roses much shorter and with closed buds. By genetically altering roses so that they are less susceptible to disease, the scent of the rose has been bred out, and people do not seem to bothered about that. I miss the smell of roses.

On our way back to Quito, we stopped in Cayambe to look at guinea pigs on the spit, but no one wanted to try the delicacy. Biscochos are famous in the area, so we tried them and they were not sweet at all, which was a surprise because they looked as if they would be. The Ecuadorians do not really like sweets that much. Milk and cheese are also specialties of the area.

We had to make a stop at Mitad del Mundo and stand on each side of the Equator. We did not stop at the place I am accustomed to stopping at. Apparently it is the WRONG equator, calculated by French scientists in the 18th century. Later, with GPS, the actual equator was found to be 250 meters away. The new place is a little hokey with a lot of representations of indigenous culture, perhaps celebrating the fact that so many native tribes knew exactly that they lived at the center of the earth and were able to calculate all sorts of things about the earth and the equinoxes and the solstices. Our guide demonstrated experiments, which showed the reduced gravity of the equator, the different phenomena that occur in the south versus the northern hemispheres and how different these properties are at the equator. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and so did the students.

Finally in Quito, back to the Sierra Madre Hotel, dinner at La Ronda, where a folkloric dance performance accompanied our meal and Eric’s last minute presentation of the uniqueness of our experiences in Ecuador was funny and entertaining for students and professors alike.
Our wake-up call is at 3:30!!!!

Otavalo, 17 January 2009

I loved having yoghurt, fruit and granola for breakfast, I feel so healthy! We drove to the animal market today and I found myself fascinated by the faces of the local people. I tried to photograph them without offending them and ended up with many profiles and backsides. Maya was upset watching the animals being sold. There were cows and pigs in abundance. One pig was particularly large, with a body as big as a cow but with short legs. Chickens at all ages, kittens, puppies, guinea pigs (they eat guinea pigs!) were bought and sold. The students did not much like the animal market. Our next stop was Plaza de Ponchos, with the artisan stalls. The students were much happier shopping and bargaining. Maya bought gifts for several of her friends, but Eric and I have been at the market so often, it is difficult to get excited about buying anything. When we returned to the bus, three young women joined us and sang Quichua songs. One of the girls was the same one who sang for us last year, but I am not sure she remembered us.

We visited Peguche, where we entered the home of an artisan and watched him weave both on a loom that originated in Spain, and another that was used as far north as amongst the Navajo in Arizona and as far south as Chile. His name was Jose Cotacachi and his work was finer and of better quality than in the markets. His prices were also higher. Our next stop was a music shop. A demonstration of flute making (there are single and double flutes, and flutes in which one blows into two holes at a time) was followed by a review of the various instruments found in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Rain sticks, a huge long horn, a guitar made of the back of an armadillo, shakers made of the toes of animals, flutes made of clay and designed with animal motifs, were shown to us. A dance with two young Otavalenos, was followed by music played by an Andean band. Our final stop was a museum of the indigenous people of this area and their artistic pursuits. In the garden we saw raw quinoa, (amongst other local plants and flowers in the garden) a traditional Quichua home, and guinea pigs in cages. Usually the guinea pigs live in the round house (round to help dissipate wind) and are used not only for food, but to ‘read’ the good or bad energy of the people who inhabit or enter the house. Guinea pigs can feel the energy of those who live around them. Sometimes the shaman will open up the guinea pig and the insides will tell him about the source of the bad energy. With the tourists coming and going, the guinea pigs would presumably be so upset about the bad energy they would encounter, they would be squealing and upset all the time.

After lunch at Casa Hacienda, we went to see a shaman in a nearby town called Ilumin, which specializes in shamans. Jamie volunteered to be his subject. We asked him to cleanse Jamie, but instead he performed a chant and made conclusions about Jamie, which Jamie reported to be quite accurate. He described Jamie as proud, and subject to ups and downs, told him that he had to be flexible in relationships and not demand his own way. He took much time in explaining himself, and chanted about Jesus and Mary in Spanish and Quichua. Very bizarre experience. He had been a shaman for 50 years and had learned the trade from his grandfather. He had worked with his wife for 30 years until she died. She was specialized in heart conditions and he took care of the rest. She had died 20 years ago, so he was on his own since. The several rooms in his house had huge pictures of religious subjects, naked women and himself in huge photographs or pictures. He was dressed in two layers of leather and wore three watches. The cleansing process would be next for Jamie, and he was ready to go on, but the rest of the students were happy to go home. The cleansing would not work if Jamie did not truly believe, so today’s work was to learn about Jamie and use that knowledge to cleanse him the next time he visited. Jamie had to take off his shirt, and to do it properly, he should have taken off his pants, but he chose not to. Our guide, Jorge, did not believe in the shaman (yachac in Quichua) and kept challenging him instead of translating what he was saying. Jorge was so irritable with him! When Jorge went to the shaman’s house to negotiate the cleansing, he started with $35, moved to $40 and then jumped to $50. I think Eric paid $40 for the service.

We had another birthday to celebrate, so we bought Tres Leches cake in Otavalo and shoved Kaitlin’s face in it as per Ecuadorian tradition. She was expecting it and was a good sport. We are all too tired tonight to listen to a lecture. One of the professors is ill with GI problems, Maya is ill as well and she is lying on the floor next to the fire, which is going out. We are staying at Las Palmeras near Otavalo. Eric and I found the place when we came to Ecuador without the students. It is close to Otavalo but far from the action, so good for students in that there is little to do nearby. Most are in bed or on the internet. No one can last very long without the internet and making contact with family and friends.

The weather has been rainy and miserable all day. Muddy morning at the animal market, rain and more rain from 11 AM on. And cold.

Out of the Jungle, 16 January 2009

Benny gave us the address of the Capuchines in Quito, apparently they have all the info on the local cultures etc.
Milagros Aguirre
Tel: 084255817
Calle Nicolas Lopez Oe3-157
(entre la Prensa y Brasil)
Tel (02) 2257689

Eric woke me up when he came in at 3 AM. He could not fit into the bed and wanted to move all the luggage off one of the beds so he could sleep. I could not go to sleep after that and later the door to the porch swung open and I could feel the breeze. At 5:30 or so the howlers started with their throaty roars. Our neighbours started talking, later I learned that they found a large spider in their room. We had an early wake-up call, a quick breakfast and off to the canoes, a walk to the Napo and a two hour motorboat ride back to Coca. The early morning mist was rising over the river and the atmosphere was romantic. I listened to music that Tara had downloaded onto my iphone and cried a lot, which is what happens when I listen to music from the past. The guides at the front of the boat were certainly curious that I had tears running down my cheeks, but it could have been the wind. We arrived in Coca and it was warm and sunny and we had a snack, more waiting and then off to the airport in the chivas and on to Quito.

Driving to Otavalo January 16, 2009

Driving up the Panamerican highway, which goes all the way to Columbia (in five hours), I am learning lots of interesting facts about Ecuador, which are coming to me quite randomly from our guide Jorge. We ask about finding a cuy or guinea pig to eat on the way, and he tells us that it is difficult to find and very expensive. Cuy is a quichua word; in Spanish is conejio pequenio, and this leads to a discussion about Quichua being different from Quechua, the latter coming from Peru. We talk about chicha, which is made from yucca in the Amazon and maize in the highlands. People spit on it to start the fermentation process. Canelazo is the traditional drink in the highlands and is made with sugar cane liquor, cinnamon, and passion fruit juice (maracua). There are three types of passion fruit juice in Ecuador, one of which is maracua.

We pass by the site of the new airport, which is currently enduring a corruption scandal. It is to be the second largest airport in South America. Over a 100,000 dollars have disappeared and causing much distress.

The landscape is semidesert, with agave, cactus and acacia trees. We drive along several rivers. The Rio Guayabamba ( guaya means green, bamba means valley in Quichua) flows by us, heading toward the sea. Ornamental plants grow on the side of the road and soon there are rose plantations on both sides. This is the rose growing part of Ecuador and roses are exported all over the world with much success. Because we are at the equator and there is sun all year and no seasons, the roses grow throughout the year. I know that we buy roses from Ecuador at Giant and Trader Joe’s in Baltimore and they are always the longest lasting and the most lovely of all the flowers.

Our guide Jorge is clearly well read, knows about his country, is proud, and has something to say. He tells us about the indigenous tribes of Ecuador. The Quichua are the largest, and there are several different groups throughout the sierra and along the Amazon. He stressed that Quichua is Ecuadorian and not Quechua as in Peru. Only three vowels in the language; i, u ,a. There are so many words in Ecuadorian Spanish that are actually Quichua words and we do not even realize it. Quichismo is the use of Quichua words as a part of regular Spanish.

We buy fruit on the road. Chirimuya is a smaller size of guanavana. This is not a guava, which is a guayava in Ecuador. The bus stops and Eric buys a bunch of chirimuya at a stand and the students taste them. We are driving in the direction of Cayambe, a huge volcano which remains active. We cannot see the volcano because it is cloudy and rainy and cold. We drive to Cochasqui, an ancient Quitu-Cara site on the way to Otavalo. There are pyramids and tombs and on top of one of the biggest pyramids are calendars of the moon and of the sun. Is is remarkable that these ancient people knew where the equator was, knew the phases of the moon and the circling of the earth and were able to measure the tilt of the earth upon its axis. Apparently, they buried their pyramids under two feet of dirt and grass so as to hide them from the Incas and then the Spanish. The site was left untouched for some time, but the hacienda owner realized at some point that there may be gold in the tombs and pyramids and tore some of them up. It is unfortunate that the Ecuadorian government does not have enough money to develop and excavate the site. Or perhaps by not developing it could save it , who knows.

We see Mama volcano Imbabura and Father (Taita) Cotocachi in the distance, obscured by clouds and mist. The legend is that Imbabura and Cotocachi were a couple, but since broke up, whenever Imbabura becomes angry at Cotocachi, her tears form the Lake San Pablo, which is between the two mountains.

We arrived at our hotel near Otavalo and settled into our rooms. I was cold so Eric lit the fire, which smoked and smoked and left us smelling like we had been in a fire. But it was warm and I listened to Maya’s beautiful music and enjoyed sitting near the fire with Eric.

The Canopy, 15 January 2009

It was raining cats and dogs, or perhaps howlers and jaguars, when we set out this morning. And then it rained harder. When we got to the metal towers, the rain let up significantly, so we were able to see many of the usual birds known at Sacha. Efraim and Ivan started immediately. We climbed the 120 feet to the first tower, stayed briefly, and then moved across the bridge to the middle tower. The scope was out and the crimson- headed woodpecker was the first sighting. Toucans, both many-banded and the larger species, were frequent sightings. There were beautiful parrots, always in pairs and flying from tree to tree. A stubborn spangled cotinga in brilliant blue modeled for us on a branch nearby. We saw howlers far in the distance. Two nun birds landed on a wire and stayed for a while. Trogons and kites and vultures appeared. The list got longer and longer. We were harassed by bees that did not sting but buzzed around us and would not leave. Efraim kept killing them, but more and more came. I think they liked our sweat or someone’s perfume. What was amazing was the ability of both Ivan and Efraim to see birds that were hardly visible and quickly line the scope up so we could see. I did not have binoculars, but even if I did, I find that the big scope supplied by Sacha is so much more effective than the binoculars I have used. I usually can’t find anything until it is pointed out to me. Then I can use my camera to find the bird. I did take photos this time in the hope that I can blow them up and see the birds in the photo.

I have no problem climbing up the stairs to the tower. I concentrate on not looking down, and I can tolerate the experience. I am anxious crossing the bridge from one tower to the next, but I focus on moving forward and keeping my range of focus very narrow. I find myself worried about slipping on the way down, but I watch every step. We are a bit above the canopy on this walk, I think they built it too high, and it could be more interesting if we were right in the canopy rather than above it, but we still see many birds, and today was a wonderful experience.

We talked about the Houarani, the Indians on the other side of the river, at Yasuni National Park. They are considered very savage and unpredictable. They have been known to have a high rate of murder, which is why they never settled in one place, but had a tradition of blood feuds and killing each other. The wives were expected to die along with their husbands if the latter were killed. It was when a group of women who did not want to follow their husbands to death escaped the community and made contact with some missionaries, that the Western world learned the Houarani language and traditions. They have been in contact with Westerners more and more, especially with the oil companies, which have made deals with them to use their land. They still kill each other and have been known to kill outsiders too. There is a story of a priest who had a good relationship with the locals and worked to help the community and support hem in their dealings with companies and the government. For some reason, they blamed him for the death of a chief and he was killed, much to the surprise of those who new how much he had supported the Houaranis. They are characteristically short and stout and still use poison guns to kill monkeys and eat them. Now many have guns and hunt. They know that locals and foreigners are afraid of them, and they take advantage of that.

The local guides at Sacha are mostly Quechua. They are part of the Naparunis, who live along the Napo and were originally Andean people who migrated along the river after the Spanish conquered the Inca. They are more gentle than the Houaranis, and are more likely to colonize and stay in one place. Several some from Tena, a place far up river near Casa de Suizo, which is the resort that was first built by the original owner of Sacha. They are knowledgeable about the forest and can see and hear things belonging to the forest almost instinctually. But they are not originally from the Amazon. There are many indigenous tribes. One of the guides is from the Schuar, a group of Indians who are from the south of the river and are known as head-shrinkers, a practice that has been long since abandoned. Apparently there are only two known preserved shrunken heads, which are in museums in Europe. The government is monitoring one tribe of Amazon people who have not yet had contact with Westerners and thus far have not expressed the wish to do so. They are observed form afar. No doubt one day they will be influenced by modern society.

We looked for a sloth. There was a group of students who had been to the metal towers two days prior and had seen one. I asked why we saw so few here. I remember seeing dozens in Costa Rica. Apparently the reason is that there remain harpy eagles in Ecuador, which prey on sloths. Efraim has seen harpies on several occasions. They have huge nests where they remain for a year at a time. Once a child approached a guide in the village, thrilled to have killed a ‘big bird’ with his gun. The bird turned out to be a harpy, so Efraim has not seen any recently, but they are around, and still prey on monkeys and sloths. The smaller animals have to adapt to life with a huge predator, and so the sloth remains hidden and less visible to the visitor. The encroachment of oil companies and colonists and the destruction of the environment has forced many animals to retreat further into the forest and thus are less available to the tourist. There used to be huge groups of pigs, and along with the pigs, jaguars, ocelots, and pumas, but the pigs have been hunted almost to extinction, and with them the big cats. There are tapirs and more cats on the other side of the river. Yasuni is a large reserve with a research station associated with Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Ecuador. Eric will be traveling there to work on research projects after the group leaves for Baltimore.

The group on the third tower had seen black mantled tamarinds playing in a tree close by but by time we got there, the monkeys were gone. We were lucky to see as many birds as we did. Mornings are best for bird watching!

We walked back to the lodge. We ran into several frogs, and I learned from one of the students (Nicole), that all the frogs in the rainforest are in danger of extinction. There is a fungus called chytrid, which suffocates the frogs. She is working on a thesis about this disease and the efforts made by scientists to save the frogs. There is a group that is working at Catolica, that is breeding the frogs in captivity and hoping to reintroduce the frogs to the wild when a cure for the disease is found. The frogs are dying all over the world, and some people believe that global warming influences the success of the fungus in some climates. She will write her paper for the course on this subject, so I will be interested to read about her work. Each student is required to write a paper to get a grade for the course. I enjoy the breadth of topics chosen each year and look forward to reading them. The professors also read their journals, which are most often less interesting.

We looked for more sloths without success, and knocked on a few trees looking for night monkeys, which are known to peek out when curious, but none made an appearance today. We saw armadillo holes, huge dug up dirt near anthills, but no armadillos. We heard monkeys, and were told that the black-mantled tamarinds were nearby, but I saw none. I saw some more squirrel monkeys, but not as large a group as we had seen yesterday.

Time feels very different here. The first time that I came to Sacha, I stayed for a week with Eric, and we wandered through the length and breadth of the property and saw every species of monkey, examined every medicinal plant and took our time looking for animals and whatever else we could find. The times that I have been here with the students, we have always been here the same number of days, but each time it feels shorter. We do the same things and have similar experiences, but this time, I feel that I have just arrived, and would like more time to adjust to the rhythm and the sounds and the smells and the ambiance. Leaving tomorrow is too soon, I am not ready to say goodbye to this place.

List of birds seen:
Spangled cotinga
Russet-backed orpendula
Yellow-billed toucan
Turquoise tanager
Crimson-crested woodpecker
Yellow-bellied euphonia
Yellow-headed vultures
White-throated toucan
Double-toothed kite
Black-headed parrots
Pied puff bird
Opal-crowned tanager
Ivory-billed toucan
Violacious jay
Nun birds
Blue dacnis
White-tailed trogon
Masked tanagers
Blue-grey tanager
Green honey-creeper
Red-eyed veriot
Cream-coloured woodpecker
King vulture
White-necked puff bird
Black-tailed trogon

Afternoon Hike January 15, 2009

Maya played beautiful music this afternoon. Bach and Oskar Reiding. Our neighbours are a couple from Amsterdam and Vienna and the man has been an opera singer. He has spent most of his career singing at the Vienna opera, but has known famous conductors and singers the world over. His daughter is a well known soprano, and sings in New York at the Met quite regularly. I did not recognize the names he presented to me. We heard him singing in the shower yesterday when Maya was practicing, clearly inspired by her talent. He was impressed with her and encouraged her to continue practicing.

Our hike this afternoon was not eventful. We visited the pygmy marmosets at the back of the cabins and predictably found a very cute little creature sucking the sap off the tree. He was not particularly fearful, just acknowledged our presence and kept on sucking. We continued further and did not run into many animals. We focused on plants. There is a wild ginger that has a glue-like substance in the stem and is used to help close wounds and also to prevent infection. Wild garlic is used to treat cough and bronchitis. Dragos blood is the sap of a tree which oozes out as a dark black substance which when rubbed becomes white. It works to treat skin irritations and also is ingested and works to calm gastroenteritis. It is sold all over Ecuador in little bottles and is the most common medicinal resource in the Amazon. Knowledge about medicinal plants has been handed down from parent to child on through the generations. Uno de gato is recently developed and is effective for prostate cancer. There is a frog which produces a substance that is an extremely strong painkiller and has been developed by Abbott . They tried to breed the frogs in captivity, but the captive frogs did not produce the painkiller. There is a huge lawsuit going on between the Ecuadorian government and the pharmaceutical company regarding the rights to the medicine, originating in the rainforest, but developed by Abbot. The medicine is not yet on the market because of this. The natives believe many of the vines and plants in the rain-forest have properties that aid against cancer but they also believe that good and bad spirits affect the illness and that part of the treatment is removal of bad spirits. The shaman takes Ayawasca, a hallucinogenic vine, that puts him in a trance and enables him to detect and dispel these influences. The local people still believe in the spirits of animals and objects and their effect on their lives. They believe that illnesses are caused by bad energy, and the shaman is able to see that bad energy and remove the bad spirits. The shamans I have seen have assured me that they can manage almost any ailment. The most common cause of illness in this area is Tuberculosis.

Local tribes still make chicha, a drink that is made from corn or yucca and chewed in the mouth to initiate fermentation. The final product is alcoholic and is used to create an altered state. The thought of saliva used for fermentation is off-putting. I have never tried the drink.

I remember that during past trips to the forest, I have learned about many of the medicinal herbs and plants, and have always been astonished at how the indigenous people adapted to their environment and found all sorts of treatment for ailments. Most impressive was the Cruscaspi, a flowering plant which is used for contraception. I was told that a certain concentration was effective for short periods of time, but that higher concentrations using the bark as well, could sterilize women for much much longer.

We looked for more monkeys and did see squirrel monkeys at a distance. The howlers were not howling. We found a tarantula and her infant and a non-poisonous snake. We ran into a massive leaf cutter anthill and watched the ants work. I love that there are security ants along with the workers. We watched the ants descend a huge tree and head for their nest. Nearby were clay towers inhabited with the bees that have a symbiotic relationship with the ants. No-one knows what this relationship entails, just that the two live in close proximity. Evidence of armadillos but no armadillos. Ivan showed us how to make a roof out of palm leaves.

We canoed across the lake again and looked for what we could find on the shore. We did see some birds, including egrets and a limekin making noise. When we returned to the lodge, we encountered Eric’s group. They were thrilled to tell us they had seen an anaconda. That is so rare! They also saw a kinkaju. I guess we did not see very much this afternoon, but it was an enjoyable walk. Maya came with us this afternoon. She was quiet and intrigued. She is remarkably patient and involved on our walks.

Dinner was followed by skits from each group of students. They were fun this year, mostly poking fun at Eric and his research. My group of students had not planned much and came up with one of the more offensive skits. I was disappointed that they had not thought things out and came up with an unkind joke. Eric tells me they are just children and not to take anything that seriously. I am just hurt.

We leave tomorrow morning for Coca and then Quito. A 6 AM wake-up call!

Morning Hike, 14 January 2009

6 AM wake up call. It was raining much of the night. The sounds are wonderful in the morning. More frogs and crickets and birds too. The birding group was to go to the tower earlier, but the rain kept them in bed a little longer. Maya and I were off with our group by 7, and by then the rain was lessening. I like the forest after it has rained, it feels fresh and clean and the bugs seem to be scarce. I put loads of 100% DEET anyway, but I am much less worried about bugs this time, I am not sure why, but I am spraying less often than I have in former years. We start our walk behind the lodge and first off, one of the guides has a small boa constrictor wrapped around his forearm…the snake is beautiful and shaking in fear. Sometimes it feels as if our hikes are a magic show, and the native guides keep pulling rabbits or frogs or snakes or monos out of their hats for us to admire. They know where the animals are and make it seem as if all is by chance, but in fact it is all well rehearsed for the visitor.

One of the students, Nicole, is researching frogs, and she is very bold in her efforts to find them. Our guide picks up several poisonous frogs, one with the colours of the Ecuadorian flag, and apparently deadly if attacked. The indigenous people use the frogs’ excretions to make poison dart guns, which can kill monkeys and other prey as well as humans! There was a less colourful frog that was equally toxic, but far less attractive. We found some toads too (a toad is different from a frog in that frogs are slimy to the touch and toads are dry to the touch- the frogs use their skins to breathe) which were the same colour as the underbrush, and very frightened of us as well. We walked in ‘primary forest’, original jungle which has never been cut down. Most of the colours are green and brown, there are very rare flowers and I imagine this relates to survival; anything that stands out is subject to easy predation. It is more adaptive to look more like the rest of the environment. We found a wonderful lizard, which was dramatically green and was very cooperative with photographs! Another lizard later on was much larger and sleeping on a branch near the lake 9 called a caiman lizard).

We admired the big trees, my favourite being the kapok tree, with its massive buttresses. I remember from years' past, that the natives believe that the devil lives inside that tree, and can take away babies from their parents. At night it can be particularly dangerous. I believe that using one’s machete to whack the buttresses can be an effective way to signal over a long distance. We encountered several fig trees wrapping around another tree thereby squeezing the life out of the original tree. Our guide, Efraim, explained many examples of symbiosis in the forest, a tree or a brush growing on another tree, an ant living inside a tree and using it but also protecting it from other predators. I admired the many fungi, hanging on to their hosts in all sorts of ways. Sometimes the fungi are the most colourful things we see. We stumbled onto a group of owls sleeping in the trees, I think there were five of them, their eyes closed but very aware of our presence.

We ran into the creek called Anaconda. We climbed into a canoe and floated silently. One of the lenses on my Nikon was not working for the first part of the walk, but I changed my lens and was delighted to finally have a working camera. I find myself looking at the vegetation in a different way, suddenly wanting to capture every branch and leaf and flower we encountered. I think I see differently with and without a camera, not that one way is better than the other, just different. Sometimes I like NOT having a camera, because I am more apt to see with a wider lens. With the camera in my hand, I see through the lens that I have and miss the wider picture. What I see through my lens however I see more intently.

Suddenly, a large group of squirrel monkeys were jumping across the trees overhead. There appeared to be over a hundred, with their expressive faces, curious, but also eager to get away from us. I tried and tried to catch a photo, but they were moving quickly and I was not as lucky as I had wished. I need a faster eye and a faster hand and a faster camera! Not long after the squirrel monkeys had left us, about six howler monkeys moved more slowly from branch to branch a further distance away. Such an incredible red colour! I did not hear the howling, but I believe the guide Ivan heard them before he saw them. I am always amazed at the guides and their ability to see and hear so much!

We heard many birds, but saw few. Oropendula were about, with their distinctive water sound, Aracari (toucans) were calling, parrots were screaming at each other, and there were many other bird sounds I am sure, but I am unable to identify them as of yet. One day I hope to cock my head to one side and distinguish which bird is singing to us. We saw the Hoatzin nesting. Apparently, one female is serviced by five or six males, who bring food to her while she sits on her eggs. There are no predators for the adult birds, so if they survive as eggs (monkeys like the eggs!) and through childhood, they live many years. We saw a heron sleeping in a tree, not too interested in our passage and waiting for nightfall to hunt.

We focused on some plants too. Ajowasca, the garlic vine, which, when the leaves are boiled, the vapour can be inhaled to help with bronchitis. The bark can also be ground up and made into a mush and ingested for the same purpose. Chichiwasca, which has use as a treatment for stomachaches – actually has a high content of salicylic acid. Chimbura, the leaves of which can be rolled into lengths to be used to make very strong rope, also made into chigras, which are sacs that are indestructible. Another plant which can be used to make a powerful painkiller, far more effective than the opiates we use. Our guide told us that Abbot researchers came to the forest and extracted this chemical and patented it, which angered the locals, who feel that everything in the forest belongs to them. There were so many other details, I should write them down as we walk, or have Maya do so. She is so very observant!

We showered after our walk, with the intent to wash off all the DEET so that we could go to the butterfly farm without being toxic to the insects. I am writing this while Maya plays Bach and Reiding on her violin. Eric returned from his time on the towers looking at birds. He saw howlers and tamarinds and lots and lots of birds. He was up late last night, catching fish for his research. I love catching fish in the dark in Orquidea, but could not leave Maya alone in her bed here, so missed out on the fun. Consequently, I did get a good night’s sleep and feel energetic today. The walk this morning was easy. We will climb the kapok tree today and watch for birds at dusk, after lunch and fishing for piranhas. Tonight is barbeque night on the balsa, which is a huge event!

Afternoon on top of a Kapok Tree January 14, 2009

The food here is super yummy and I invariably eat far too much. Some of the food is Ecuadorian, and there are certainly local touches, but generally the food is continental. The founder was Swiss, and the food is suitably European. It is difficult to move after lunch, but we wandered to the balsa (dock) to fish for piranhas unsuccessfully (Jamie caught two ‘sardines’, I do not think they are sardines, but they were not edible piranhas anyway). The native guides did not catch fish either. It was hot and muggy so many of the students dove off the dock, and Maya joined them soon after. I worked on photographing diving moving swimming human specimens.
Our next hike was at 4 PM. We paddled through Orquidea, a river that flows either into or from Pilchicocha, I am never sure, since I have seen it flowing both ways. I love paddling across the lake and watching the paddle hit the water, which is dark with tannins. One cannot see far into the water. I know there are many fish, particularly piranhas, but only occasionally do I see a fish jump. Entering Orquidea is a magical experience. One slides in quietly, and we are soon enveloped by vegetation on either side and above us. One hears cicadas and crickets, an occasional bird, and sometimes a frog, but the latter come out later and are louder when we return in the dark. We see a striated heron and a blue heron as we enter the creek, and later a much larger brown tiger heron waiting for prey next to the water. There are many freshwater mangrove trees and palms and water lilies whose flowers come out at night. We try not to make a sound. We see black clouds in the water, which turn out to be massive groups of tadpoles clumping together for safety and darting out occasionally for a peek around. Our guide, Efraim, tells us that the only way for them to survive is to remain in large collections.

The river is dammed up at the end to make it possible for the canoes to land. Our first destination after we disembark is the zipline. I remember the first time I did the zipline was with Eric and Washo. I had not been told where we were going or what the plan was, so it was a surprise to encounter the zipline, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Actually, the zipline is located outside of the boundary line of Sacha. One crosses a meter wide space between Sacha land and the community. There is clearly an arrangement between Sacha Lodge and the local people to bring tourists past the confines of the lodge. The zipline experience is always fun. The students enjoyed themselves, but for Claire, who shuddered and screamed softly.

The wooden tower is in a massive kapok tree, which is enveloped but a fig and has many symbiotic bromeliads growing all over it. Symbiosis is the norm here. Trees live on and in and around other trees, there are ecosystems in leaves, ants that protect plants and vice versa.
We saw several toucans, or aracari, as they are called here. Always a delightful sight. There were howlers in the distance, howling on occasion and then moving away. Small little birds populated the top of the kapok tree and wandered in and out of the bromeliads. Bird-watching is truly much better in the mornings. We looked for a sloth that had been seen a day earlier, but did not find it. There were orpendula nests and we saw many russet-backed and white ones flying back and forth. Although I have seen many birds on the towers at Sacha, I have never documented what I have seen. I am not yet a ‘birder’ although I do enjoy the birds. We walked back to Orquidea and paddled gently back. When we arrived at Pilchicocha, we took our time returning to the lodge, and ran into kingfishers and herons along the banks. A huge caiman was lounging under the balsa, and several ani were flying back and forth near the lodge. The Hoatzin are always close to the lodge, huge birds perched in the top of the trees around the lodge. We returned in time for the barbeque on the balsa. Lots and lots of meat in many forms: pig, chicken, beef, sausage…they like their meat here. I was looking forward to Tres Leches dessert, but this time we were not lucky! Eric lectured on electric fish after dinner, which kept several non-Hopkins guests staying later to hear it. At some point he lost his audience. Fishing for electric fish with Marcelo, Rudiger, Eric and Maya, was our evening entertainment. Marcelo has always been the best fisherman and again caught the most fish. Generally we did not see many fish. I believe that the water level is so high, many fish are hiding further back from the riverbank. We were all super tired after our fishing expedition and fell into bed exhausted. Eric stayed up later to try to set up a video system to monitor his fish. Erika and Rudiger’s student Vincent, went to the Napo to try to catch the electric fish with huge nets, but were entirely unsuccessful and very frustrated.

The Jungle, 13 January 2009

I love listening to the sound of the jungle at night. I cannot identify the various noises. I believe the frogs are very vocal, as are the cicadas. The birds are asleep. It is surprisingly noisy, especially if you close your eyes. We arrived at Sacha Lodge at dusk. A short plane ride from Quito at 9000 feet to Coca ( San Francisco de Orellana) at sea level, then a two hour motorized canoe jaunt down the Napo River, and a 30 minute walk through secondary forest, led us to Pilchicocha, another short canoe ride, and Sacha Lodge. The last part is breathtaking, even after having been here several times before. We climb into the canoe and float through a narrow inlet with hyacinths and orchids on either side. This opens up to the lake and if it is late in the day and if we are lucky, the howler monkeys are howling, a low growl that sounds like a machine in the distance. We did not hear the monkeys when we arrived, but they did start howling an hour or so later. All around the lake, the grass is a foot or so high and there is evidence of caiman, where the grass is flattened in the shape of  a very large creature. The birds are flying about. The stinky turkey (Hoatzin) makes a loud and distinct sound, as do the Oropendula. The birds are all sorts of colours and I never remember to bring binoculars, so I cannot identify them. Later, another professor offers me a peek through his binoculars and I see yellows and reds. I ought to pay attention to identifying and documenting what I see, but perhaps I will next time I come.
Maya loves to swim in the lake, which is dark and very deep. There are caiman and piranhas in the lake, so nighttime swimming is verboten, but somehow swimming during the daytime is perfectly safe. There are a few people fishing for piranhas on the side of the balsa, but the piranhas generally do not nibble on the swimmers. The students and Maya and Eric dive off the side and I try to capture the movement and the shapes with my camera. There is one very good one of Eric, but only parts of bodies on most of the frames. I am reasonably content with my efforts.
Eric and I meet with Benny, the founder of the lodge and we interview him for an hour and a half. Such great adventures he has had! He left Switzerland and came to Chile at 23, met Che Guevara and prospected for gold in Bolivia and then came to Peru and then Ecuador. He encountered obstacles and successes and failures and ultimately started the lodge and has returned to live in Switzerland again. I was pleased that I was able to communicate with him in German – what a remarkable life!!!
We had our nighttime hike this evening. Lots of spiders and stick bugs and butterflies and grasshoppers and even a paca (a huge rodent with spots, apparently yummy to eat ) and for the first time since I have come to the jungle, I have seen a coral snake, very poisonous and very beautiful. I was afraid to get too close to photograph it, because it is very dangerous and deadly. I checked my photos and was disappointed that the snake is not really identifiable in the photograph.
Maya is very excited to be in the jungle again. She came last year and adjusted easily to the place. This year she is a pro, and reported that she saw an armadillo, not once but twice!!!
I wanted to look for fish tonight -- my favourite pastime of all in the jungle. We travel out on the lake to Orquidea, a creek across from the lodge, and in the dark we paddle through the night, feeling fruit bats flying amazingly close to our heads. We shine huge flashlights in the water and look for the skinny small fish that my husband researches. It is challenging to catch them with nets. Sometimes we work in teams, one person shining the light and identifying the fish and another using the net. The fish are very careful and hide in the dirt on the banks of the river, so sometimes we are not too successful. I could not go fishing tonight because I do not feel comfortable leaving Maya alone in the room. I do not believe it is dangerous, but if she woke up, she could call and no one would hear her, and perhaps she would be frightened and wander around looking for us in the jungle. So Eric is out on the hunt, and I am listening to the sounds of the night and wondering how I will sleep with all this noise!
The rain began again. It has been raining off and on since we landed in Coca. We wore big ponchos on the ride in, and it cleared for a while when we walked in and crossed the lake. It was wet during our night walk, and again now. It rains in the rainforest! Eric is on the water in the rain. I am not sure if that helps or hurts the fish hunt. He has students and colleagues here who will do research after the rest of us have left. He is hoping to begin a research station at Sacha.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Knowing Quito

I have been driving around Quito for five days. I bought a map and have started to pencil in the places I have been in an effort to familiarize myself with the city. The city is very long and narrow, sandwiched in a valley with huge mountains enveloping it. The peaks are shrouded in clouds. There are days when the sky is clear and the tops of the mountains are visible. That has not happened this trip. Many of these mountains are active volcanoes and have rumbled over the years. Guayasamin painted some views of Quito. The most remarkable picture reveals a sleepy sprawling town oppressed by mountains and menaced by red flames, red sky, red clouds. Beautiful and unsettling. I worry about earthquakes and volcanoes spewing and being unable to flee. I imagine Pompeii and Vesuvius and being covered in ash. The apartments I was looking at were all in tall buildings. I asked about fire alarms and there were none. I asked about earthquake safe technology and all I got was blank looks. I asked about sprinkler systems in case of fire and I was told that because of the altitudes there was a very low incidence of fires in Quito and in La Paz, Bolivia. Very reassuring.

My anxieties revealed themselves in my dreams. I dreamed that I was compelled to participate in a terrorist organization, that I disappeared from the life I knew and could not contact my family, that I tried to be found but could not, that finally I contacted a family  member and went to the police to tell them what I knew and saw a familiar bomb in a briefcase ticking at the police station. I got everyone out of the office, but the bomb followed us and then the terrorist group arrived and then I woke up and could not fall back asleep. I realized that I have many fears about this adventure far away from all that is familiar.

We woke up early to return to one of the earlier schools we visited. Maya was to have testing to determine her level and which class she would be most appropriate for. I was surprised that she spent two and a half hours doing extensive psychological testing and only an hour of academic testing. She seemed quite comfortable with the ordeal. I had hoped to have wireless internet, but I read my book "Culture Shock Ecuador", which was an unfortunate choice. Page after page details the dangers of living here. One can expect to be robbed, mugged, carjacked, taken advantage of, forced to pay off police, involved in corruption, the list goes on. One must be ready to move from yellow to orange to red alert! When I ran this by my Ecuadorian hosts, they disagreed vehemently, and made efforts to reassure me. I am not sure who to believe, but Isabel's perspective suits me: expect others to behave badly and that is what you experience. Expect the best from others and your experience will most likely meet your expectations. She said it much better than that and in Spanish and she had the last word. 

More schools for the afternoon. Terranova was an impressive new and growing school, but entirely taught in English, so not exactly what I want. SEK was a larger and well known international school with a big swimming pool which was a hit with Maya. More ballet and music academies (Maya wants to continue her eight hours of ballet a week and is an amazing violinist, so I want her to maintain her skills while here) and more driving and more traffic. So many cars, so much congestion. I find the traffic exhausting. I look forward to not driving while living here, but that may not be realistic. 

The group came back from Galapagos with wonderful stories. Everyone was tanned (or burned) and full of enthusiasm. They saw huge turtles and dolphins and penguins and sea lions and albatrosses and hawks and boobies and more. I look forward to my next visit to the Galapagos. My husband has been there ten times and is less than thrilled about going, having seen everything there is to see there. He is much more excited about the jungle and will be spending another week after the group leaves at Sacha and at Yasuni doing his research on electric fish. I think he is very lucky to have a job which enables him to pursue such adventures. 

Our lecture tonight was about the 'Sixth Extinction'. there have been five grand extinctions since life began on earth and the last hundred years or so have been characterized by another one. Species are disappearing at alarming rates and the end of life as we know it is not impossible. Of course, humans are the cause of this amazing rate of extinction, and more than likely, at this rate, humans will be extinct in 3000 years and this may give the rest of the species on earth a chance to survive and perhaps another intelligent species will rise and take better care of the earth than we have. I was horrified and am now horribly depressed. 

Off to the jungle tomorrow. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Guayasamin is an Ecuadorian artist who was born in 1919 and died in 1999. I have seen some of his works at a small museum in DC and have encountered lots and lots of copies  of his paintings in the markets in Quito and Otovalo, However I was unprepared for the emotional impact of his original work at the Capilla del Hombre. He grew up poor and his paintings capture the misery and anguish of the disadvantaged.  So much pain. Erika, the girl I am staying with, was in tears. She was thinking of next year when she will be studying in Syracuse, New York, and will be away from her family and all that is familiar. Her mother was in tears too, anticipating her very lonely house next year, when both Erika and her sister will be studying in the States. I found myself just feeling the sadness of the paintings and of the people I was with. Maya was oblivious and was just eager to eat.

We ate Japanese food. It was the first time my host, Isabel, ate with chopsticks and she did not struggle at all. It was also the first time she ate Japanese food, which was genuine and good and the desserts were outrageous. I thought that every dessert had sake in it, but later learned that the name of the restaurant was Sake and that the desserts were just specialties of the restaurant. Maya indulged of course, and I had tastes of everything.

I had wanted to go up the mountain on the Teleferico ( I have wanted to each time I have been in Quito but there has always been an obstacle to going). This time clouds were collecting over the southern part of the valley and the top of the Teleferico was bathed in grey cotton and threatening rain, so after our delicious lunch, we opted to walk Erika's big dog. I will have to ask for the name of the breed. It is large and furry and sweet and she is planning to bring it to Syracuse with her. She is worried about discrimination when she lives in the United States and I have nor been particularly reassuring.

Dinner was not organized.  Everyone just rummaged through the fridge and chose what they wanted.  We sat together; Isabel, Erika, Maya, Erika's sister and brother (Mario) and an exchange student named Alison who is from Columbia, MD and goes to the U of Maryland ( she is studying Spanish, Persian and Russian, WOW). Another student is named Roberto, is also from Maryland and is genetically Ecuadorian, but grew up adopted in an Irish Mexican home and does not speak Spanish or know his family of origin. I think he is here for significant psychological reasons. It is stunning to look at him; he looks absolutely native, but then he speaks and it is clear that he is the boy next door. He was out tonight with a friend from the States who is working for a church helping disadvantaged people. I believe that is what he wants to do for a living when he finishes his genetics degree next year. 

I am glad that Isabel joined us today and I think she really enjoyed herself. She apparently does not like to go out and remains in the home  mostly working, both as a mother and housewife     ( although she and her husband have been separated for ten years, they still work at he same business together) and at her company selling materials for security business. Her office is in   the house. She is overly generous and wants to please us so much. Of course she also adores Maya. I think if I leave Maya with her for a week or two, Maya will be speaking Spanish in no time.

We have an early wake up call to get to the Einstein school for testing. Maya is asleep, I am organizing my bags so that we take only jungle clothes to the forest, which is the second part of the Johns Hopkins' course. We will be joining the students when they return for the Galapagos tomorrow and will be participating in their program from now on. I love the forest and look forward to this part of the trip. The 'selva' is a magical place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Staying in Quito

Today was a gorgeous sunny day in Quito. The sky was blue, the mountains were visible all around the valley, it was warm and inviting. The weather is unpredictable here. I never know what to wear. I always have several layers with me and I am constantly adding and removing layers, feeling cold, then too warm, opening the window of the car and then hastily closing it. Over the last few days there has been rain, sun, mist, cold and wind, each alternating with the other. 

I worked on recognizing the origin of people selling things on the street. Most are from Otovalo, wearing long black or dark blue skirts with one pleat on the side and a white underskirt. Cuenca women wear a shorter pleated dark skirt and wear felt hats, which the Otovalenos don't. I want to return to the museum at the Mitad del Mundo, which has an exhibit of each indigenous group and their traditional attire. It is remarkable that the indigenous people still wear their individual identifying costume.

I learned today that there are many apartments available at a convenient price and that this will not be a problem when we are ready to rent. Whew!

No schools were open, so we did not visit any. My daughter was relieved. We did visit with a friend of a friend in Baltimore , and had a wonderful time playing with their three dogs ( an Akido, a bulldog, and a yorkie, quite the combination) and talking about schools and a place to live and the obstacles we can expect to encounter in Quito. I am reassured that we will be fine, that Maya will be fine, that the year will be wonderful.

I wanted to eat Ecuadorian  food for lunch, but my host brought me to a crepe restaurant and so we ate crepes and salad and I indulged in a cappucino-- I cannot accustom myself to Nescafe, which is what many Ecuadorians drink. I enjoyed drinking a more familiar kind of coffee and it calmed me down for the rest of the day. Pizza was ordered for tonight, it was thicker and heavier than I am used to but recognizably pizza.

Tomorrow will be a tourist day. We will try the Teleferico if the weather cooperates, if not, we will have to choose a museum.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Not Going to the Galapagos

The students woke up early to catch a plane to the Galapagos. I wish we were going with them. Staying in Quito and looking for schools and apartments is not proving to be much fun.

Our school search is complicated. There are wonderful schools, but the focus is mostly about teaching the children to speak English. I want Maya to learn Spanish, so that narrows the choice down, but none of the schools I have visited is quite right. Of course that is no different at home in Baltimore. I guess I just want everything to be easy.

I have decided where to live -- an area called Gonzales Suarez. I believe it is convenient to both universities (I will try to get a teaching position at San Francisco de Quito and my husband is at PUCE-- I am not sure what that stands for but one of the words is Catolica).

I am trying to imagine myself living here. It feels so foreign and I am entirely out of place. I look like a gringo and will always look like a gringo, even when my Spanish is better. Maya will do better. I think once she is fluent, she can pass for a local. If my 19 year old decides to join us, she too, with her long blonde hair and remarkable presence, will no doubt be a novelty whenever she ventures out. I think she will like that. I am looking for opportunities for her. I spoke with the manager of a travel company and he believes he can find something for her. The other option for her is to attend the University here.

I keep forgetting that toilet paper does not go into the toilet. Invariably, the first piece of toilet paper finds itself in the toilet before I remember to use the waste basket. I am expecting a horrible mess in the bathroom anytime. And I know I am the responsible one. I am also forgetting to use bottled water for brushing my teeth. When will the microbes begin to attack?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Visiting Quito

It was school visiting day today. Public schools are not an option because they are crowded and will not meet my daughter's needs. I am insisting that she is immersed in Spanish. Unfortunately the good schools here focus on English language education and most classes are taught in English. So that narrows things down. More schools tomorrow. Maya will need to be tested to determine which level she will be enrolled in. Imagine, the schools invariably do not think much of American education and are suggesting she will have to go back a grade or two!!!!!

The students had a more interesting day. The museum at the Banco Central is full of Pre-Columbian and Incan pieces, so it was a good introduction to Ecuador.. They walked through the old town and visited all the amazing churches. We met for a yummy lunch at the 'Bambu' Restaurant and the group then visited CENIT, the charity which the course is connected to. The students brought gifts and a phamacy I work closely with sent along gargantuan quantities of medications. The day was alternately cloudy and rainy and hot and sunny. When they were to view the city at the Panacillo, nothing was visible. The group travels to Galapagos tomorrow and Maya and I continue our school search.