Saturday, February 28, 2009

This is Home!

I am finding myself looking at this city very differently now. I am reminded that this will be home in a few months and that I will be part of this collection of humanity. So many people look familiar to me; the passport control officers, the baggage handlers, the receptionists at the hotel, the servers at the restaurant. Or perhaps I am looking at my surroundings in a new way, or paying more attention. 

Eric's favourite bookstore is 'Libri Mundi', just a few blocks away from the hotel. We looked for books for Maya, with each page presented in both English and Spanish, and a couple of them with Quichua as well. I am committed to helping Maya learn as much Spanish as possible in the next few months, so this is a start. We looked for a good coffee shop. I have yet to adjust to Ecuadorian coffee, so a cappuccino or espresso is a must to start my day. Eric wanted me to look at a nearby apartment available  for rent; it looked wonderful, but we were unable to contact the landlord.

We joined our group for the afternoon, with a stop at my favourite museum in Quito, the Banco Central. It has an extensive collection of pre-Incan artifacts. Our guide was very enthusiastic and did an excellent job of describing 11,000 years of Ecuadorian history. I was reassured, because he reiterated so much of what I had presented in my lecture about pre-columbian art and history, and added more perspective and unique insights, so that I found myself more and more enthusiastic. I could have spent many more hours in the museum, and that will be one of my plans for when we return here to live. 

We took the bus to the colonial centre of Quito. The main plaza is is flanked by the 'White House' where the president works and could sleep, but he prefers to live in his home in another part of the city, the Archbishop's Palace, two lovely old hotels, the ugly concrete city hall and the cathedral. The city is a international world heritage site, because it is well preserved in the style of the colonial era. Ruminahui, Atahualpa's Quitan general, had razed the Incan city to prevent the Spaniard conquistadors from conquering the city. He also took all the gold of the city and hid it,  fought the Spaniards valiantly, and it is possible that his gold was never found. There is a legend that the gold  is is still hidden in the Llanganate mountains south of Quito. The Spaniards used Incan stones for the foundations of their new city, and these are still visible at the base of the buildings, above which adobe bricks were used for construction. There are many churches and religious complexes in the city. Fransiscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, almost all the orders are represented. We visited the most spectacular church, the Compania, which was home to the Jesuits. Every surface inside the church is covered with gold. It reminds me of the Jesuit church in Rome, which it was modeled after, but the profuse use of gold makes it unique. Although remarkable to look at, I find the church unsettling, I cannot imagine praying there. 

The church of San Fransisco was being restored, so we could not enter it. We were able to get in the back way through the choir stall and peek over the balcony to see the renovation process. Initially the ceiling was to be restored, but the renovation process revealed that a major crack in the foundation arch required repair, and then the columns attached to the arch. Finally, archeologists discovered skeletons under the church floor. Ultimately the project expanded to a much more extensive renovation process, which will take years to complete. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Back Home in Quito

We have finally arrived in Quito!!!! It has been an unusually long day of travel. The alarm woke us up at 3:30 and we were out of the house 4 AM. Flying to Miami was uneventful, but we arrived by 8:30 with seven hours before our next flight. I decided that a trip to South Beach made sense. It was too early for the beautiful people to be about (they were sleeping off their nighttime activities), but it is a pleasant walk along the beach. The architecture is warm and inviting. I can understand why the place is so popular with tourists.

I enjoy Miami airport, with its disorganized chaos. We were lucky with security today. Usually I am in the line for over an hour, and we were warned not to arrive later than noon to make sure we would have enough time for the expected wait. Instead, we jut breezed through. We met several of he group members who were to be with us for the next ten days. They are friendly and excited about the trip.

It feels different to return to Quito. This place is to be home, and I just left Quito a month ago. Going through immigration, picking up our bags, Xraying our bags; everything feels familiar. I wonder if I recognize random people in the crowd and working at the various stations. i wonder if I remember the passport control person. Everything goes easily, no bags are lost, we fly through each step of the the process.

We are staying at the Hotel Quito Colon, which is the place I stayed when I visited Quito for the first time perhaps five years ago. It is a flashier hotel than I am accustomed to. The students stay at the Hotel Sierra Madre, which is smaller and quiet and quaint, but this is an altogether different sort of trip. When we take the students, our schedule is very tight and we are running constantly and sleeping very little; this trip is less intense and more casual, which I am truly looking forward to.

So this is home. It is so convenient that the dollar is the currency here. Eric warns me that Ecuador may give up the dollar which could be good for us, or not. It may destabilize the economy and the country. Is this advantageous for us and our year here or not? i am not sure. The weather is wonderful. it is clear and fresh. Apparently although it is the rainy season, it is not expected to rain. We are warned to bring several layers, that the weather will be changeable and very sunny and warm in the afternoon. We will take a city tour tomorrow and visit my favourite museum, the Banco Central, which has an amazing collection of pre-columbian art. I get lost in the museum, caught back in a time long ago in Ecuador. As our guide stated in the bus on the way from the airport, there have been Ecuadorian people here for 13,000 years.

The people look familiar. I wondered over and over at the airport whether I was just imagining that the faces were ones I had seen before. I am sure no-one recognized me. I am feeling more at home amongst the local people. I look so different and foreign, but this will be my home and I will be less and less a foreigner. I enjoy listening to the language. It is beautiful and lyrical and inviting. I almost feel ready to speak Spanish to everyone and leave English entirely out. Erika's boyfriend David met us at the airport. Again, I felt welcomed and part of this place. This will be the place we come home to.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Travel Zen

So this is it, I am packed and it is not midnight yet. I am trying to decide whether to sleep or not, since we are up in a few hours to catch an early early flight to Miami. The flight is soooooo tedious, with a five hour layover in Miami and late night arrival in Quito. I looked for better connections, but nothing quite worked out for us. I have to give in to the 'life is the journey' experience. Actually, once I get on the plane, I enter my a new way of being. I am less irritable, less rushed, better able to sit and wait and be in the moment. I become quite a different person. I am not in control, I have no choice but to go with the flow. In Ecuador especially, nothing quite happens as expected. Flights are delayed, time becomes an entirely different element. When we are with the students, we warn them to expect long delays. Whatever the agenda is, it is subject to change. Our schedule may or may coincide with that of our guide, and in the end it is his will that prevails. We are making adjustments constantly, and if we are casual about it, all is well. Luckily the students seem well able to tolerate the waiting and the glitches. They fall asleep in the bus, on the plane, in the waiting areas, wherever they may be, and don't seem particularly bothered about the delays. I hope our alumni travelers are just as patient.

So what will I do for five hours in the airport? I will read, work on some project on my computer, perhaps rent a movie and watch it, probably eat some inedible food, likely walk the length of the terminal. Before I expect it, we will be boarding our plane to Quito. I like Miami airport, because it is such an unexpected place. If you listen, you do not hear English spoken; Spanish is the primary language, and the energy is intense. More often than not, the eating establishments offer Cuban food. I am always stuck in Immigration, where I am addressed in Spanish, and everyone in our 'holding cell' is from a Spanish speaking country, including me I suppose, since I live in the United States as well. And I like the language, it has rhythm and a musical quality and is pleasant to hear. Of course, as of yet, I undertand only a fraction of it.

I am bringing a Spanish textbook with me and hope that I will have time and motivation to work on it. I was planning to take a course this spring, to work on my grammar, but I am traveling too much and will miss to many sessions. I believe that if I put my mind to it, I will start get more focussed and make as much progress as in a class.

My sister arrived this afternoon, and Maya took over, explaining her schedule and how things are done in the house. By the time I came home, Monica was comfortable and ready to take over. I wonder if Maya will be taking care of her...Maya appears to see this as a great adventure. Monica brought her Havanese, Kasper, who takes every opportunity to hump Elmer. Elmer tolerates him. We are all still missing Pippi, Elmer particularly.

My alarm clock will ring at 3:30 AM. Yikes!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Every time that I travel I resolve to get organized early and pack a few days ahead of time, and despite my best efforts, I find myself scurrying around until my flight departs packing and repacking and bringing far too much. After so many trips, I ought to have learned that traveling light is the way to go. Oops. I will put it all together after working all day tomorrow...

My sister flies in from Boston in the afternoon. This will be the first time that she will have time with Maya, and I hope they will enjoy each other. Maya will like the attention, since Monica will pick her up early from school and Maya will have more time to chill and to play. When I return from Ecuador this time, I want to reduce my working hours and have more time to be with Maya. We both have to learn more Spanish to prepare for our year away. Maya's new school has already suggested that Maya learn as mush Spanish as possible before she starts school in September, it will be easier to adjust. I have not really paid much attention to the fact that I must be fluent to enjoy my year in Ecuador. I just assumed that I would learn by osmosis and I will suddenly find myself competent in the language. I am realizing more and more that I need to pay more attention to learning the language now. My life is far to packed with activity to take the time to learn...or at least that is my excuse. I resolve to focus my energy on learning the language when we return. It is a beautiful and expressive language. Quito is known to have excellent language schools, so that may be an option when we live there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I am finally recovering from a nasty nasty cold. I gave in and prescribed myself a Zpack, even though it is most likely this was a virus, a powerful one at that. I do not want to be ill on the trip. I will not need any vaccinations for the Galapagos. I have had a yellow fever shot and typhoid pills for past trips, and malaria prophylaxis is not necessary for this trip. Of course, it is just not fun to be sick while traveling so I am hoping that I am over

I am starting to pack. I hear that the weather will be very hot while we are in the Galapagos, and I am looking forward to the heat. It has been cold in Baltimore and colder in New York, and I have had enough of winter. Quito will be pleasant. Of course, in January it rained almost daily and it was unusually cold, so I am not sure how it will be when we are there.

Our itinerary starts in Quito for a day and then a trip to Otavalo for the market, and five days in the Galapagos, back to Guayaquil for a short visit, and then the group goes on and Eric and I return to Quito to make further arrangements for our stay. We have met with a lawyer and have an idea of which visa we will need. We will revisit some schools and make a decision to move forward on that. Perhaps we will look at more apartments and think more carefully about where we will live and what sort of transportation needs we will have. This is most likely our last trip to Quito before we move permanently. That sounds so final. I am beginning to get eager for the move. All the preparations make me anxious. Eric has emptied the house and it looks wonderful. Whey did we not clean it up and live like this before? I feel sad that now that the house is neater and more organized and the holes in the walls are patched and painted over, and the closets cleaned out and half the books and the furniture removed, we are not staying to enjoy it. I feel more peaceful with this spare look. The clutter was irritating. I am determined never to accumulate as much as I am accustomed to. Of course, while we are in Ecuador, we will not have much, and we can be sure to live more simply and have less stuff.

I have participated little in the clean-up. It has been Eric's project and he has been putting in late hours to accomplish his task. I have used all sorts of excuses, and of course I have been ill and Pippi has died and I am tired after work etc etc, but in truth it is my ambivalence about moving that has motivated all the obstacles to doing anything to move the house forward. Eric is exhausted and irritable with me. I hope he understands. I am feeling more enthusiastic now that the house is moving forward, although I am not keen to sell it. I feel that if I have no house to come back to, there will be no compelling reason to return.

I am so eager to close up everything and leave. The preparations are overwhelming and the anticipation is disconcerting. I almost feel as if I have said my goodbyes and it is time to go. I am telling the last group of patients about my imminent departure. It is necessary to give my patients alot of warning, but now that I have announced my plans, I feel awkward seeing them again and again before I go. I am sure they will be fine, even if I left tomorrow. I have found doctors for almost every one of them, and they will be well taken care of. But I will miss them. They are my daily concern, and I care very much for each of them. When I tell them, they are encouraging and excited for me, and mostly gracious and encouraging about the move., but I feel guilty for leaving them. I have no problem leaving everything else in Baltimore, and if something happens that should keep me in Ecuador, I will be delighted.

Not formally working for a year sounds wonderful. I feel very lucky to be able to just live life without an agenda, to be able to wake up in the morning and pursue whatever direction or task or project or absolutely nothing at all. Sounds like a great adventure.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Culture in Ecuador

I travelled to New York and back yesterday afternoon. I waited for the Chinatown bus and when neither the 3:30 nor the 3:40 PM bus showed up,  I dashed over to the train station and caught a very comfortable seat on the Acela express. The bus is $20 each way and the train is far more expensive, but I did not want to miss Tara's play. She has been rehearsing nightly for over a month, and I promised to see it, knowing that I had obligations Saturday morning and evening and Sunday afternoon and could not get to New York any other evening of the week. Sunday night was the only possibility. 

The play was called the 'Mapmaker' and was set up as a movie within a play. I found it disconcerting that the main character was supposed to be East Indian, but was played by a black man with a very odd accent and mannerisms. I found him so strange and out of place and distracting. That along with the movie set and the odd movie crew characters interfered with me actually listening to the play. I was more interested in my daughter, and waited for her to appear on stage. She had only a few lines, and was entertaining and funny, so the adventure was worth all the effort. I am not sure I paid much attention to the rest of the play, so I had little to say about it afterward.  Tara and I had only a short visit before I boarded the train again. I rested on the way back and decided that train travel was quite wonderful. I have been taking the bus to New York because it is such a bargain, or my car which is easy and inexpensive because I get such good gas mileage, but the train is the way to go, except for the expense. 

There is limited train travel in Ecuador. People drive or take the bus. There is a short train ride over the Andes that is a tourist attraction. The tradition is to sit on top the train and experience the roar of the air whipping by and the precariousness of the track high in the Andes. I believe it is near Riobamba and we will be sure to experience it one weekend.

I am not sure what the cultural life is like in Ecuador. Tara is interested in volunteering, so I have been looking into theatre troupes. I asked several people in Quito what they do in the evening, and I was told that eating out was the most usual form of entertainment, that there was limited music and theatre. Big names did not usually stop in Quito. There was much excitement about 'Supertramp' coming for a concert in February. Supertramp? I did not know they were still alive! 

There is a music tradition. Mauricio played some Ecuadorian music for me, and it was beautiful and compelling. We will have to explore more when we are in Quito.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crossing the Equator

The 'Crossing The Equator' ceremony is for those who are crossing the equator for the first time. So it makes sense that I experienced the initiation ceremony as a newcomer to the Galapagos and to the equator. I enjoyed playing the role of a pirate, wearing a patch on my eye and a red bandanna and making loud and raucous pirate noises. It was a hoot to see my husband half naked carrying a trident and wearing a crown as King Neptune. His princess was a lovely young Indian woman who looked regal in her queenly attire. We all had a script, but I have no recollection of the words or the import. There was some sort of ingestion of mysterious liquid, and ultimately pouring of water on those participating in the ceremony. Drinking and dancing followed late into the evening.

The ceremony originated in the early 1900's as a initiation ritual for new sailors who had not yet crossed the equator. Essentially it was a hazing event, the new sailors demeaned and harassed by their more experienced colleagues. Ultimately it was the hazing nature of the ritual that resulted in its discontinuation. There has been no mention of the event these past two years on the Santa Cruz. Apparently some passengers had been disturbed by some aspect of the reenactment, so much so that the whole event has been nixed, not even discussed.

Eric thought of bringing costumes and coming up with a script so that we can arrange our own ceremony. I am not sure the alumni we are with will have any interest in participating, I would imagine that the students would be more enthusiastic. In the end, I want to celebrate the crossing in some way, not public, not loud and raucous, but actively and reverently. I believe we cross the equator several times during our trip. 

I am sitting at a conference on eating disorders this afternoon. Although I will not be working as a psychiatrist in Ecuador ( it takes far too long to get a license to practice medicine), I wonder how much eating disorder exists there. I do not believe there is a tradition of psychiatry in Ecuador. My impression is that seeing a psychiatrist is not generally accepted and that there is a significant stigma associated with seeing psychiatrists. Last year at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Washington DC, I tried to attend all the events related to psychiatry in South America. These were limited and poorly attended, suggesting that psychiatry remained sidelined and irrelevant.  I hope to learn more when I am living in Quito.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Darwin and Religion

I wondered how Darwin was able to let go of all the usual religious beliefs of his time and thus propose his theory of evolution. At one point he studied to be a clergyman, but apparently that was because he thought he could spend his time observing and experimenting and writing. Ultimately it was the loss of his ten year old daughter that ended his belief in God. She died of tuberculosis and he was heartbroken. His theory of evolution is not what led to his lack of faith. One of the reasons he held off from publishing his findings was his sensitivity to his wife's beliefs and he was concerned that he would offend the average British citizen. In the end, he published his work when he heard that a scientific colleague had made the same observations and was about to write about it before Darwin did.

The scientific community responded positively to his theory. The public was not as welcoming. When I was in school I do not remember there being much debate about evolution. Religion did not enter the classroom. It seems that in the last ten years or so, the resistance to evolution has grown, at least in the United States. I am interested in hearing what the participants in the program will be saying. Occasionally the students will challenge Eric when he is lecturing on the boat,. I am always surprised when he listens respectfully to their comments and does not challenge them in return. Of course, arguing about evolution does not make much sense; comparing religious beliefs and scientific theories is like comparing apples and giraffes.

Darwin spent most of his life in the country living a quiet life far removed from everything except his family and his books and his experiments. He was often in poor health, but his symptoms were vague and he lived a long life. He devoted his time to observing his surroundings and developing his scientific theory. I wonder what kind of life he would have had if he lived today. Most likely he would be a university professor hiding away in his lab. If he published his ideas for he first time today, how would he be received? Would he have a greater impact today than 200 years ago?

I find it curious that the Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador. They are so far away from the mainland. Eric tells me that no one wanted the islands and Ecuador was the closest country. I wonder if the Ecuadorians knew what the islands would hold for them. The islands were not occupied by indigenous people before Friar Tomas de Berlanga discovered the islands in 1535. It was annexed by Ecuador in 1832 and the Beagle arrived in 1835.

Our journey will be an abbreviated version of that of Darwin. I wonder if we would have the patience and enthusiasm that he had to observe and record his observations and think about them for years and years to develop his devastating theory.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Itinerary

It is time to start getting organized  for our trip to the Galapagos. We will be flying to Quito next Friday, then  spend a day exploring the city, leave for Otovalo for a day at the market, followed by five days cruising around the Galapagos islands, and a day in Guayaquil. We will be traveling with Johns Hopkins alumni, as well as alumni from other universities. Eric will be lecturing to the group about Ecuador, Darwin and evolution. 

I am especially looking forward to this trip, because I do not have a significant role to play, so I will simply be a tourist. I do not have to worry about students and children and safety. I plan to take hundreds of photographs, write as much as I can, perhaps do some filming, read and relax, perhaps even jump off the boat. I was horrified the first time the captain allowed Eric and the students to leap off the boat from the balconies. It looked entirely unsafe. Each year, more and more students take the plunge and they all survive. I was relieved that Maya did not see it happen this year; if she had she would be jumping off the boat with the students. Usually it is just the boys who are jumping, and most years there are far more girls than boys, so only a handful take the risk. Apparently this year many more girls participated and the group had a larger number of boys, who jump anyway. I do not think we have to worry that the older crowd that we are with will want to do it. But perhaps it is time to be brave and do it myself. Or not. I will decide when we get there.

We will be on the same boat as we were the last several times. I will recognize many of the staff. The first time I travelled to the Galapagos we were on a different boat, and I enjoyed the ceremony we participated in when crossing the equator. All of the passengers on the boat took part in the extravaganza. Eric was King Neptune. There was a queen and a princess, and I was a pirate along with many other pirates. We followed a script, there was music and songs to sing, and a good time was had by all. I am not sure why it did not happen on the Santa Cruz last year. Apparently some passengers complained about it. I remember it being absolutely fun. 

This will be my first visit to Guayaquil. I just learned tonight that we will have a tour of the city and overnight. There is a rivalry between Quito and Guayaquil. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and Guayaquil is the business centre. The people are different. Quitenos call those from Guayaquil 'monos' (monkeys) and those from Guayaquil have a derogatory name for people from the highlands. The coastal Ecuadorians talk faster, move faster, have a different history. I expect that we will travel to the coast when we live in Ecuador. This will be my introductory visit.

So I will be more of a tourist this visit. I am seeing new places, I will not be taking care of anyone, so I am freer than I usually on these trips. When we travel with the students, the schedule is rigorous, and we do not sleep more than a few hours a night except when in the Galapagos. Our itinerary next week is far more relaxed, and I will have time with Eric and quiet time too, so this is a vacation for me. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Off We Go!

The yoga week in the jungle is materializing. The brochures will be designed and distributed soon. After our time in the  Galapagos next week, Eric and I will take a day to drive to Casa del Suizo and make sure it will work for the yogis. The tour company has also chosen  a place to stay in the north of Quito for the first and last night, and I want to be sure it feels right. 

My friends express concern that I will not be working regularly in Quito, and that I will be frustrated without a schedule or a purpose. I have no worries at all. There are so many possibilities. I may teach at San Francisco de Quito in the medical school and have sent my CV there already. I will help Eric organize his research station at Sacha and will take every opportunity to travel to the jungle. I would like to check out other lodges and take the trip along the Napo from Tena to Sacha. I have to provide photos for two books, so I will be photographing everything I see. I need material for my book and will bring a videocamera along to document and film. I will volunteer at CENIT in Quito. I must learn Spanish, and Quito has good Spanish schools, so that will be a priority when I arrive.  I want to see as much of Ecuador as is possible and plan to drag the family out every weekend to explore. Perhaps we will visit Peru as well; I have never seen Macchu Picchu. I will be taking care of Maya and Eric and that will take a chunk of my time. I am looking forward to living a very different life than the one I am used to. I hope to meet many Ecuadorians and have as many friends as possible come to visit us in Ecuador. I am sure there is much more on my list. 

I wish I could just wish away all the work and projects that must be attended to between now and our move, and just go, but for now, the house needs cleaning and organizing and prepping for sale, my practice requires alot of attention while I refer all my patients to other doctors and clean up the business loose ends. Maya needs to learn Spanish, we need to finalize our decision regarding her school next year. 

More and more excitement!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moving Forward

I will be back in Ecuador in a week and exploring the Galapagos soon thereafter. I am trying to look forward and feel energized and excited. The death of Pippi has left me sad and panicky and drained, and I am trying to reverse this emotional spiral. 

I am surrounded by 'The Origin of Species' and 'Voyage of the Beagle' and a narrow new book about Darwin that Eric sent me called  'Charles Darwin The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man'. I think I will begin with the latter. It has lots of pictures, which is a good way to start. I look at the end. Quote: 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution'. It occurs to me that evolution has always made perfect sense to me. It confuses me that people discuss 'believing' in evolution versus 'creationism' or 'intelligent design'. It is not a matter of belief; evolution IS, while religion is a belief. 

It is more difficult for me to imagine how Darwin was able to develop his theory of evolution by wandering through the Galapagos. The islands are stunning to visit because the animals are so unafraid of humans that they do not run away. We are able to approach them up close and we feel touched by the experience of relating so intimately to these wild animals. Swimming with the penguins and the seals and the huge sea turtles is an intense and delightful experience. Each time I visit I make an effort to imagine Darwin's experience. I am convinced that he had been thinking about evolution for years before and I know it took him another 20 years to finally publish his ideas. Of course, the reason he hesitated about publication was his concern that his ideas would be poorly received, that because they challenged the belief system of the day, that the public would object to his conclusions. He finally agreed to publicize his theories because other scientists were ready to go public with similar ideas.

There was an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York  three years ago. I insisted that the family travel to New York one weekend and see the exhibition. I remember staying in a very basic sort of hotel on the Upper West side close to the museum. The museum was wonderful and we had much to see, but we focussed entirely on Darwin. The best part of the exhibition was the personal story. I liked learning about his family, his children, his friends and his colleagues. He discussed his theories with his wife and was worried that she would be offended because she was very religious. They explored the likelihood that he would offend many people in their social circle and in the end she encouraged him to go forward with publication. 

Darwin spent most of his life thinking in his home in the country. After his voyage to South America and the Galapagos, he retired to his estate in the country to think about what he had seen, to conduct research, to write. He has had an incredible impact on our sense of who we are.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Pippi died today. It was time, or at least that is what I am told. It felt like an execution. My daughter was home, so she was able to say good-bye and to hold him as he passed. It is late in the day and I have been avoiding feeling the loss, but now that I am sitting and not moving, I have no choice but to think about it. I miss him; he was a big presence in our lives and the house feels empty without him. 

I came back from New York and found my home transformed. Eric has made significant progress in emptying several of the rooms on the first floor. It looks cleaner and emptier and devoid of character; apparently this is the best way to sell a house. It is looking less like my house and more generic. 

Change is happening, and much faster than I am ready for. The house is less my house, my dog is dead, my practice is shrinking, we are firming up our plans for moving. I am learning that although I have always seen myself as brave and bold and ready for anything, that I like to hold on to what is familiar and I have more fears about the unknown than I thought I had. I am truly excited about the move and the adventure of living in Ecuador and pursuing a different direction in my  life, but at the same time, I want to hold on to all that I know and feel secure with. 


Monday, February 16, 2009

Small World

We met Carlos, Carmen, Alejandro and Gabriel today at the One World Cafe. He and his family are living in Baltimore for a year and the children are going to the same school that Maya attends and interestingly are returning to Quito to the Colegio Alberto Einstein next year ( the same school that Maya was tested at and which we put at the top of our list). They are the same age as Maya but are a year ahead of her in school. They started in September with little knowledge of English, but have adjusted well and are enjoying Baltimore. 

Maya was very quiet and did not interact much with the twin boys. She was self conscious and worried that she did not speak Spanish. Everyone tells me that she will learn the language quickly and it will not be an issue for her. The school sent us an email urging us to have her learn as much Spanish as possible before she starts the year in Quito, so It will have to arrange for lessons or tutoring for her. Maya does not want to leave her friends or her school or her home or her ballet or her violin teacher or anything at all. She would prefer to have nothing change in her life. I worry that we are unsettling her, that it will be all too overwhelming for her, or perhaps I am thinking about my own feelings and concerns. I am reassured that if Eric and I adjust well that Maya will be fine too.

Tara came home to say goodbye to Pippi. She was horrified by his appearance, even though I had repeatedly warned her of his deterioration. I feel that it was important for her to see him to be able to let him go, so it may be time for him tomorrow. I see no reason to keep him alive any longer. 

Tara, Maya and I had loads of fun filming a movie. Tara has a project for her film class and carried home a camera and tripod, holding it tightly in her arms all the way from New York to Baltimore on the bus. She kept stressing the cost of the camera and was fearful of damaging or losing it. Maya played a leading role in the movie and took instruction well. Tara was setting up the shots and I was filming her. At one point I found myself in the movie as well. I can't wait to see the final product. Next comes editing and the soundtrack. The software for editing is impressive, and I believe I have some of the software on my IMac. I have decided that I must bring a movie camera to Ecuador along with a tape recorder. I must make movies and record sound along with writing a book, teaching at the university, organizing yoga retreats, teaching pilates, volunteering at charities....I will certainly have more than enough to do in Ecuador.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leaving New York, Baltimore

I came to New York to bring my daughter home. She has been at rehearsals most days over the last five weeks and has been unable to return to Baltimore to say goodbye to her dog. I have not yet had the heart to make a decision about Pippi. He is deteriorating and I am sure many would have put him out of his misery weeks ago. I hope that once she spends some moments with him, she will understand that it is time to let him go. Whenever I tell her that he is failing, she bursts into tears and asks me to wait until she is ready. Of course, this is just my excuse not to experience the loss.

Eric and Maya took Elmer, the younger and healthier dog, to the dogpark today and left Pippi behind. Elmer has been depressed and hiding in his crate most of the last several days. I wonder if the dogs communicated about the trip to the dogpark. I am sure Pippi knew where they were going and what they were up to and I wonder if he cared or if he knew he could not go anyway. I wonder how much Elmer knows about  is going on with the older dog in the house. Pippi appears to understand when I pack my bags and take a trip. He wanders around with sad eyes and follows me from room to room. Now Elmer has sad eyes and keeps his tail between his legs as if he was guilty of something.

Somehow losing Pippi helps me let go of the house and our life in Baltimore. Eric has stayed home this weekend to continue preparing the house for sale. My ambivalence has prevented me from participating in the preparations. The house will feel emptier; Tara left for college, now Pippi is leaving; the house is getting bigger and we no longer need the space. Selling the house sets us free, cuts our ties, opens up possibilities for us. 

I have been concerned about Tara and what she will do next year when we are in Ecuador. I have encouraged her to make plans, either in New York or Ecuador. She is applying for a semester abroad for the first half of the year and time off volunteering in Ecuador for the second part of the school year. I look forward to having her close by. I am uncomfortable with being a whole days' travel away from her. So her plans reassure me.

After a weekend in New York, I am especially looking forward to a much warmer climate. It is springlike all year in Quito and it will never be intolerably cold. I forgot that New York is so much colder than Baltimore. The wind is howling and my feet are wet and cold and I can never get warm enough. 


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Walking in New York

New York is a wonderful walking city. And so I walked and walked and walked. Stopping briefly for an espresso macchiato, my first purposeful march was down Madison Avenue from 59th Street to Union Square for a more relaxed stroll through the green market, and on to Tisch School for the Arts. Tara's rehearsal was a 'tech' run-through, which is slow and after watching for awhile, it was time to move on. Back up to Times Square and TKTS. Valentine's Day has brought many theatre-goers to the city and the lines were long. I waited patiently in the cancelation line to see Will Ferrell's play about George Bush; I was surprised to see so many other hopefuls, but to no avail. I walked to Carnegie Hall and imagined Maya making her debut, wandered back to the Sherry Netherland to recharge and then realized I had hardly enough time to march back down to 8th Street to meet Tara during her two hour break.

Walking New York streets is entertaining. People-watching, listening to the many different languages spoken, looking at the beautiful shops and stopping at cafes and diners and pastry shops, looking up at the architecture; never a dull moment. There is no need to visit a museum, the museum is in the streets; vital, moving, alive.

I needed a day to adjust to the rhythm of the city. There is so much going on here, so much activity, everything catches my eye and intrigues me. I imagine that the people who live in the city become accustommed to being overstimulated and start to pay less attention, and are better able to focus and function.

I did get to a play this evening. Tara has been encouraging me to see 'August;Osage County'. I have been avoiding it until today, knowing how painful it is to watch a dysfunctional family operate for over three hours. It won several Tony awards including best play of 2008. It was well worth seeing, excellently acted, powerfully written. I am exhasuted.

It is remarkable to feel so safe in such a big thriving city. I feel I can walk anywhere; the streets are full, the restaurants and bars and shops are open late. I am sure that life can be mundane and repetitive here as it can be in any other city, but I don't see it. I see people celebrating life.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Visiting New York City

I took the Chinatown bus from Baltimore to New York today. I try to get to New York monthly to see my daughter who is studying theatre at NYU. It was a very long trip with horrendous traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel. I have been visiting New York regularly for over 25 years. When I lived in Montreal in the early eighties, we used to drive to Burlington Vermont and take 'People's Express' to New York. It cost $29 each way and we were squeezed like sardines for the short flight. I started getting to know New York on the Upper East side. I loved being near Central Park and visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Lincoln Center. I moved over to the Upper West Side as it became more popular. When my oldest daughter became interested in theatre, we stayed near Times Square and saw plays every day. Now that she lives in the West Village, I spend most of my visits close by at a friend's apartment that happens to be on the same street as Tara's dorm. I have enjoyed all parts of New York, and this visit have decided to stay near Central Park again. It is an entirely different feel from the area around the University, and I like both equally.

Tara was at a rehearsal this evening, and I arrived too late to get to a play. It tried to find a movie to see, but everything started an hour later. I wandered from the corner of 59th and 5th, past the Apple store and FAO Schwarz, where I had brought Tara year after year when she was small; past wonderful shops, some new, but many which have been in the same spot for years and years. Past St. Patrick's Cathedral where I have been to celebrate several occasions in the past. At Rockefeller center there were young people camped out waiting for a chance to be in the audience of Saturday Night Live, willing to sit through the cold night with no guarantee of getting in. I wandered onto Times Square, checked out the plays showing....trying to make plans for tomorrow. Finally visited Sephora, which is like a candy store for adults, and spent too much time just looking. Tara and I used to take the same walk and wander in the same stores, so this was a stroll through all sorts of memories.  

When Erika, our Ecuadorian friend, was staying with us in Baltimore, I took the family to New York one weekend. Maya was playing in a concert at the Manhattan School of Music. I had tried to get a hotel near Tara's place using Hotwire, where you do not know which hotel it is until after you purchase the package. It turned out to be the Hilton which looks over the site of 9-11, which was a huge mass of construction. Erika did not like New York at all. It was too big and too busy and there were far too many people, for Erika there was nothing redeeming about the city. She preferred Baltimore to New York and preferred Quito to any other city. She liked the slower pace of Quito, she liked that it is quieter and more spread out and perhaps mostly because it is her home.

I will keep visiting New York. I feel that I am still exploring the city. It continues to reassure me in the many ways it does not change, and continues to intrigue me with its variety of neighbourhoods and reinventions. 

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Crime in Ecuador

My husband is sending me periodic articles about crime in Ecuador. The State Department publishes regular alerts. A few years ago, it was the jungle south of Columbia which was of concern. The FARC guerillas would cross the border into Ecuador to evade the Columbian soldiers. Last year several FARC leaders were killed in a cross border raid, infuriating the Ecuadorians. I have heard less about the FARC lately, they have lost ground significantly in Columbia.

Crime is increasing as a direct result of the economic downturn. Robberies and burglaries are up. Eric has a colleague, Winfred, who is a German professor of neuroscience who is married to an Ecuadorian and has Ecuadorian children. He came to his home in Quito one day to find a group of burglars at his house with guns and threatening his wife and children. They stole several items in his home and brought him to an ATM to take money out of the bank. He is scared and ready to return to Germany. 

Eric sent me an article about a murder in the Quito area today. Murders are infrequent in Quito. When I expressed my distress about the murder, Eric reminded me that I live in a city that frequently has the highest incidence of murders in the country. Some years the average is about one murder a day. The crime rarely affects my life because it happens in very specific areas of the city.  The local nightly news is a daily diet of murder, drug deals gone bad, corruption, poverty, lost souls. The numbers clearly show that life in Quito is safer, and that we are far less likely to be robbed or murdered in Ecuador. I cannot say that I am reassured, but I am not thinking too much about being a victim of crime when we  are living in Quito. I will be careful, I will follow all the guidelines for being safe, guidelines which I have to follow here as well.

The book I read preparing me for living in Ecuador was called 'Culture Shock Ecuador'. I hope it exaggerated the the dangers of living there. It advised being on 'orange' alert at all times and being ready for 'red' alert at any moment. 

Maya will be picked up and driven to school daily. I will get her to the bus and pick her up when the bus drops her off, and the school takes security very seriously. Security guards monitor the entrance to each apartment building and office and storefront,  and heavily armed guards man the banks and the more significant businesses. I am told not to carry much money with me and to modest in my attire and not 'invite' an incident. I cannot help but look like the 'gringo' that I am. 

Latin America will suffer more than others with the economic recession and there may be significant anger directed to Americans and Europeans. I wonder if that will translate into more incidents directed to foreigners. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cloud Forest

'A cloud forest is a tropical or subtropical evergreen montane moist forest characterized by a high incidence of low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level'; I have never been to a cloud forest, and there are several in Ecuador. They are special because of the large numbers of species that are native only to that habitat, and because they are jungles at high altitudes. I have yet to visit a cloud forest. There is so much I have not seen in Ecuador. I have every intention of making up for that and exploring every corner of the country.

There is a trail on Vancouver Island called the 'West Coast Trail' -- I remember taking three or four days to backpack the length of it. I was with a college friend. We met in Vancouver and took the ferry across to Victoria and then drove to the southern tip of the trail. We must have organized a ride back to the car, because we only walked one way. The trail ran near the western coast of the island and was once a logging trail. The story was that the sea was very rough on that side of the island and many ships ran aground, and the rescuers used the trail to save who and what they could from the wrecks. I remember trying to describe what I saw on the trail to others; I kept calling the forest a tropical rainforest, because it rained regularly and the air was full of moisture. We would sleep on the sand with the ocean waves humming through the night, and in the morning the forest would be covered in mist, which never entirely went away. The trees were big and there were many ferns and moss covering every surface. The trail was well maintained, with bridges and wooden ramps where the tail would otherwise be inaccessable. More than once the trial ended at the edge of a waterway. We would have to wait until an Indian in a canoe would come by and ferry us across to the other side. We would have had to hike miles and miles more if we had not hitched the rides. It was a wet several days. My clothes stayed wet, my sleepingbag never dried. Vegetation was abundant and overwhelming and inside the forest we did not see the sun. Luckily, we were never too far from the beach, so when possible we could walk out to the sand and watch the waves or go for a very cold swim. It was summertime, but not a sunny experience. When we arrived at the end of the trail near Tofino at the northern tip, I remember the mist never rising and going out to look for whales, but he weather not being cooperative and not being able to see anything. I imagine that a cloud forest would look like that trail on Vancouver Island, but nowhere have I seen it described as such. Of course, it is not tropical or subtropical, so it does not fit the definition. I guess I will find out when we travel to the cloud forest.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jungle Yoga

I believe the Yoga in the Jungle experience is moving forward and we may decide to spend a few days in a lodge in the cloud forest as well as at the jungle's edge. Sid is serious about the trip and we are discussing it and organizing it. I am so excited about bringing yoga to the rainforest. My preference would be Sacha, I think that would be remarkable...but Sacha is unavailable in July and Casa del Suizo will have to do. Eric and I may travel there when we return from the Galapagos next month, to be sure it will work out for the group. I hope I can bring Tara and Maya on the yoga retreat as well. Tara is very good at yoga and Maya is a natural; she can wrap her body into a pretzel without much effort. I realize how bizarre 30 people twisting themselves into unusual shapes will look to the natives. They will wonder about us I am sure.

This year ahead is ramping up and becoming more real and more and more exciting. I was worried that there would not be enough for me to do in this new life, but my list is getting longer and longer and suddenly I have more projects than I think I can actually accomplish in the limited 24 hour days that are no longer on the equator than they are here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Leaving Life Behind

Tomorrow is my father's birthday. He is 89 years old. I sent him a chocolate cake in the mail. The best gift I could give him would be to visit, but he prefers consumable gifts. I am planning to see him in April during my daughter's spring break. I try to convince him to visit me, but he likes to be home where he feels secure. He does not like to miss his daily physical therapy sessions. He believes that if he misses too much therapy he will lose his mobility. 

While physically fragile, his mind remains sharp. He has been assuring me for years and years that he has lived a long and satisfying life and that he is ready to go. I cannot imagine life without him, although I have been preparing for the loss. 

Although he lives far away and I see him only two or three times a year, it will be difficult to be further away and less able to visit. I cannot imagine that he will be well enough to travel to Quito. The 9000 foot altitude may be the limiting factor, or perhaps just the long flight with several connections. The last time my parents visited me, they missed their flight in Minneapolis and had to stay overnight without baggage at the Days Inn and arrived in Baltimore exhausted and without any clean clothes for three more days. Both became violently ill and spent their first week at my home in bed and in the bathroom, and were eager to return home and be safe. They promised me they would never return. 

It will be difficult to be so far away from my parents when in Ecuador. I miss them anyway and will miss them more next year. I feel guilty about abandoning them; their lives revolve around their children and grandchildren and I am not sure I will be able to maintain contact as regularly as I do now. I am not sure it really makes that much difference living three or six or ten thousand miles away, but I fear that I am leaving them behind. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sacha and Benny

Benny started Sacha, conceived it, designed it, built it, made it happen. After hearing his story, I find it astounding that he moved from textiles to gold to running a restaurant to creating a nature preserve. I find it odd that after 40 years in south America, he is back in Switzerland with his young Ecuadorian wife. He has left his children and his life behind in the jungle. He returns once or twice a year for a visit. He leaves the operation of Sacha and Casa del Suizo to his sons in law.

He told us his story, but did not divulge his feelings or his motivations. He did one thing and then moved on to another. He downplays his thirst for of adventure. He took risks, he kept landing on his feet, starting over, reinventing himself. He is modest and does not embellish or exaggerate his story.

Benny leaves Sacha as his life work. It is art, literature, a creation. It is his legacy.

It takes great sense of purpose, sense of self, confidence, courage to leave all that is familiar behind, to start life over again. Both my parents left their families and homes and started new lives thousands of miles away. They learned a new language, a new culture and a new way of being and prevailed in an unfamiliar environment. I wonder how much of the equation is running away from the past to start anew versus a willingness to take risks, to face the unknown, to accept failure as much as success.

Leaving everything behind in my life is feeling less and less frightening. I have come to accept that I must sell my house and pack my life away in boxes. I feel that for a time I will be floating or perhaps sinking with no foundation underneath, that I will ultimately land somewhere and be fine. Part of me is looking forward to the freedom of having no choice but to move forward, and facing whatever presents itself. It is interesting that failure does not even register as a possibility. I will just live life as it happens, and I like the idea of the unexpected.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Stories About Benny

I had visited Sacha several times and had never met Benny. I had heard stories about him, had met his daughters and son-in-laws, had wandered over every inch of his nature preserve, and wondered who this man was. How did this idea start for him, how did it evolve and grow and change and come to be this incredible refuge? Eric told me Benny would be at Sacha the first night that we would be visiting. And he wanted to talk to us. Eric brought his tape recorder and I was useful because I spoke and understood German, and Benny was most comfortable in the language of his childhood, despite having lived in South America for most of his adult life.

After waking up early, catching the plane to Coca, going down the river in the motorized canoe for two hours, walking to Pilchicocha for another 30 minutes and floating by canoe to the lodge, the first activity Maya and the students are itching for is the plunge into the lake full of piranhas and caimans. I met Benny on the balsa while watching Maya diving with the students off the side of the balsa. I am not sure what I expected, Benny was legendary and I had all sorts of fantasies about him. He looked like a man in his sixties. Nothing in his face or his rather serious smile suggested anything about his adventuresome past. He agreed to meet with us before dinner.

The balsa is a deck at the edge of the lake. There are caimans underneath, and one year when we arrived and a group of young women in bikinis were sitting on the deck at waters' edge to warm up in the sun, suddenly scores of cockroaches swarmed out from under the balsa and precipitated alot of screeching and running. Eric sets up his experiments on the balsa, and has a pile of electronics in a corner whenever he visits. The balsa is set up as a barbecue dinner one day a week. The balsa is built in the traditional style with wood and palm, and looks natural and appropriate in the midst of the jungle.

Eric had asked me to plan some questions for Benny, to be prepared to interview him, but prepared questions were not necessary. Benny had much to say, not that he had an agenda, he just started into his story and of he went without pause for the next couple of hours.

Benny described knowing immediately that he had found the location for his lodge. He wasted no time in gathering those who owned the land and bought 500 hectares around his lake. He brought 150 men to the jungle to start the building. He had a master carpenter but no architect or engineer. He had a clear vision of what he wanted.

At first, few people came. Many did not think it would work. The logistics were overwhelming. Benny was confident in his business sense. He knew he had a good thing going and persisted. Gradually the place became known and referrals trickled in.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Benny's Story

I wanted to know more about Benny and how the idea of Sacha began, so Eric and I sat with Benny for almost two hours on the balsa our first evening at Sacha in January. I was prepared with a list of questions, but they were swept aside as Benny started talking and sharing his life with us. Benny left his home in Interlaken, Switzerland at age 23. He had already been married, divorced, had two children, and worked as a tailor. There was no future for him in Switzerland and he was eager to leave his life behind him and start over again. He traveled by ship to Chile in June of 1963. It was midwinter in Chile and Benny did not like it, so after three weeks in Santiago, he left for a greater adventure Bolivia. Bolivia was wild and untamed and revolution was in the air. Benny met Che Guevara. Che was charismatic and driven and determined to change the world he knew. Revolution is more brutal than romantic; the villagers were killed if they did not join the revolutionaries.

Nazis had escaped to Bolivia and lived openly there. Benny met a man named Mr. Altman at the Cafe Alleman in La Paz, drank coffee with him, enjoyed his company. I am not sure when he learned that this 'nice' man was Claus Barbie, but ultimately he was discovered by Elie Weisel and brought to justice for his crimes during World War II.

Benny was a tailor by trade and put his skills to use working in a textile factory for a man named Saltzman. After a few months in Bolivia however, he found his calling. He met a Belgian man named Ralph Reiss von Falkenheim, who took him on as a son and taught him all he knew about gold; finding, refining, and selling gold. And there was much gold in Bolivia.

Benny fell in love with Peruvian woman in Bolivia in 1967 and followed her to Peru. They had two daughters, Roxana and Andrea. The gold trade continued to offer him opportunity and wealth until the late 70's when Peru went to war and it became difficult to get gold and money out of the country. He moved to Ecuador in 1979. There his life became more complicated. Politics interfered with the transport of gold out of Peru to Ecuador to Panama to Switzerland and his profession became more dangerous. Staying out of jail was a challenge, but gold was worth much money. His wife liked Ecuador and his gold business was successful for a time.

Tragedy arose when his wife battled breast cancer and ultimately died in 1982. He was left with two young daughters to raise in Quito. He opened a successful restaurant which he sold in 1983. By 1984, he had lost everything and had no more money. He moved his new wife and children to Ahuano on the Napo River three hours from Quito and civilization. The jungle was wild and adventuresome and his children were happy at the Mission school with the rainforest as their playground. Benny started his life over again. He began making and selling bread and jam. He made cookies and cakes and sold oil, salt, sugar, rice, sardines and vegetables to the native Indians. Within two years he became the biggest salesman in the whole area.

More unique and lucrative opportunities arose for Benny. A big earthquake destroyed all the roads between Quito and Tena and between Quito to Lago Agrio and Lago Agrio to Coca. Transportation was no longer possible on the roads, so all goods were transported on the Napo River. Benny got organized; he bought motors and canoes and worked to become the biggest transporter in the area. He knew the jungle well and had good relationships with the local people. A salesman from Coca Cola asked Benny to organize the transport of the drink throughout the jungle. Benny was again lucky, and had a remarkable knack for redefining himself. His business grew. He had three trucks, and several canoes that would travel the length of the Napo and into Peru. When the roads were rebuilt, he continued to distribute Coca Cola using his trucks and canoes.

Benny became interested in the hotel business and opened the Casa del Suizo in 1987 with only three rooms. With the money he made from gold and Coca Cola, he was able to expand to fifty rooms by 1990. With success, he began to look for another place to start a lodge. He traveled up and down the Napo looking for the right place. I am not sure that he had a dream or a vision, but he knew what he wanted and was not finding it. On his way back from Panacocha one day, he was told about another possibility. For some reason he did not have a guide with him, but he was comfortable in the jungle and walked to Pilchicocha on his own and discovered the pristine lake and knew immediately that he had found what he was looking for. He gathered all the local people to a feast in Coca, and introduced himself to all the relevant players and arranged to buy the 500 hectares he needed to start his lodge.

More of the story tomorrow.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The conquistadors came to the New World to 'conquer, convert and exploit' the inhabitants. They brought priests with them on all their expeditions. They were certainly successful in converting the indigenous people. Every town in Ecuador has a Catholic church and much of the population is in church on Sunday. The priests were often well meaning and made efforts to support and protect the local people.

It is interesting to see how the native people have incorporated the Catholic religion into their original belief system. When we visited the shaman in Illumin near Otavalo, I paid attention to his 'altar', which was jampacked with items which were relevant to his beliefs. Amongst the statues and crystals and stones and ashtrays full of cigarette butts, were statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. His incantations were full of references to 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph', along with local spirits and 'huacas' which are physical manifestations or representations of spirits. The walls of the shaman's house had pictures of Jesus ( along with bigger pictures of the shaman in leather and aviator glasses, and still more calendars with naked ladies). I wonder how it was that this foreign religion had resonsance for them , that it was embraced as much as it was imposed on them. They appear to be dedicated in their Catholic beliefs as much as they refuse to let go of their ancient beliefs.

The mountains are gods and goddesses with personalities and feelings. Acknowledgement is made to the old gods over and over again, often as the essential part of any significant action or project. I have seen people make movements with their hands which appear to be equivalent to the signing of the cross, as a way to refer to the old gods who may be listening. I am reminded of the word 'synchretism', the merging of cultures and belief systems.

The church exploited the people. When initially conquering a tribe, the conquistadors were obliged to present the 'requirement', which informed the soon to be conquered that they must give up their beliefs and honour only the Catholic god, that they hand over their lands to the Spanish king....and of course if they did not agree to the 'requirement' they were killed. Initially it appears that the natives had no choice but to covert (or die!), but in time they have embraced this religion and made it their own.

The church has also been a force for good. Many priests were appalled at the treatment of the native people and wrote to King Philip of Spain, exhorting him to impose limits on the conquistadors and more respectful treatment of natives. They fought against slavery. The priests learned the local languages and wrote down Quichua. They set up schools and hospitals and universities.

So Ecuador is a very Catholic country and the church continues to exert its power to do good and otherwise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Music in the Jungle

My identity and sense of purpose is all about the work I do. I have been a physician for 25 years, most of the time as a psychiatrist. Had this opportunity to go to Ecuador not presented itself, I would most likely have continued working until my retirement. I have enjoyed my work; it is interesting and challenging and never ever boring. Leaving my work and closing my practice is complicated. But mostly I am excited!

I imagine doing everything that I never have time for in my ordinary life. I have a list of the 100 best works of literature of the 20th century, and I plan to read every book on that list. I would like to meditate. I have made repeated efforts to meditate and have failed quite miserably in my efforts. I expect to exercise daily and improve my fitness. I had a horse until I was 30 and riding horses was my passion for much of my childhood; I would love to ride regularly and perhaps introduce my daughter to horsebackriding. I sent my CV to a university in Quito and may be able to teach in the medical school. I plan to help Eric set up his research station in the jungle. I would like to organize a yoga retreat in the jungle. I have a contact with a charity in Quito which helps children, and I hope to participate in some way at the charity. I am taking photographs for books my husband is writing about biodiversity and the Napo Valley. I would like to write a book about my experience as well.

I imagined a quieter more peaceful life in Quito. But quiet and peaceful is not a life I have ever led. My life is jam packed with activity now, and will likely be full of activity in Ecuador. I have my daughter to care for and a family to organize and take care of. Of course that is no different than my life here.

I imagine bringing music into my life. I listened to a guitarist in Quito who composed music in the style of traditional Ecaudorian music. I was entranced, especially when his wife sang along with his guitar. I want to learn more about Ecuadorian music. I wonder if I will have time to play a musical instrument. I am inspired by my daughter Maya, who plays violin beautifully. It was especially satisfying to hear her play Bach in the jungle. All who heard her were entranced. I don't believe there are too many violinists in the jungle. I would like to learn to play the guitar. I wonder if I will have the time to practice.

I am getting more and more excited as I anticipate this amazing opportunity to step out of the ordinary routine of my life. I feel as if I am jumping off a cliff, that once I make this move, I can never go back to the life that I once led. There is nothing wrong with the life that I lead, but this move forces me to approach my life quite differently from the past.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back To Ecuador

I will be back in Ecuador in a little over two weeks! I will be traveling to the Galapagos with a group of Johns Hopkins alumni. Eric will be lecturing several times during the trip and I am not sure what my role is, but I will find a way to be useful. I missed the Galapagos in January, so this is my chance to return. Visiting the Galapagos is easy and relaxing. We cruise around the islands and stop for excursions a couple of times a day. The best part is the snorkeling. We swim with huge sea turtles and penguins and seals and even sharks. We see animals that have no fear of man or other predator. I try to imagine that Darwin saw exactly what I am seeing, and made his conclusions about evolution based on what he saw on the islands. I try to pay attention to the finches, but they are not compelling.

It is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book 'On the Origin of the Species' which outlined his theory of evolution. I was expecting all sorts of exhibitions about Darwin and his theories. There is an orchid exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which is supposed to relate to evolution and Darwin. A patient of mine who volunteers at the Smithsonian greenhouse urged me to see it soon before the orchids start looking too tired. Otherwise I have not found many museum events celebrating Darwin's life or accomplishments.

I keep wanting to read 'The Voyage of the Beagle', I want to be more knowledgeable about the islands and the theory of evolution, but I must admit that I am less interested now that I have traveled to the Galapagos several times. I like to experience the contrast between the jungle and the Galapagos. In the jungle the animals are hidden, we have to search for them. Evolution is happening all over the place in the jungle and it is truly an adventure to see it.

Eric is an organismal biologist, a neurophysiologist, a neurobiologist, a neuroethologist, an evolutionary biologist, I am sure there are more words to describe what he does. He is interested in animals and their behavior and examines what neurons are doing while the animal behaves a certain way. He researches electric fish from the Amazon. One of his aims next year is to start a research station in the jungle, a project I would like to participate in. I believe this is a way to preserve and provide another option for 'developing' the jungle. So far the oil companies have destroyed so much, along with the colonists who follow them. Research and 'ecotourism' may save some of the jungle, at least for now. I find it shocking each time that I fly from Quito to Coca : more and more of the jungle disappears each year, and this is evident from my seat in the plane. Eric shows it to me on 'Google Earth', but looking at the satellite images is too disturbing -- the percentage lost every year around Coca is astonishing. I am sure this is happening all over the Amazon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Equinox and Solstice

The pre-Incan indigenous people of Ecuador read the skies. They knew they lived at the center of the earth. I wonder if they knew that the earth is round? How did they predict the solstices and the equinoxes? I had no idea what a solstice or an equinox is...I looked it up on Wikipedia. 'Equinoxes occur twice a year when the tilt of the Earth's axis is oriented neither from nor to the Sun, causing the Sun to be located vertically above a point on the equator. A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth's axis is most oriented toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun to reach its northernmost or southernmost extreme.' The equinox occurs in March and September and the Solstice every June and December. Why would these primitive people find it useful to make all these measurements? They knew that the Earth was tilted on its axis and they measured the tilt. My question is why?

When I look at the heavens, or if I visit the Planetarium, I am very aware of how small and insignificant I am and how vast and endless the Universe is. I am fearful and then accepting of my very small place in a very large and infinite space.

The sky in the jungle is big and close. The Milky Way shines in the sky and stars are abundant. On rainy days, we could not see the stars, but we were lucky to drift through the lake with our eyes upward. The rain would not let up in the Andes, so we had to imagine the stars and the primitive people who watched them and recorded what they saw. The Quitu-Cara site at Cochasqui had two elaborate calendars, one lunar and one solar, one for festivities and ceremonies and another to help plan for planting and harvesting.

I look at the sky through my window and it is cloudy and rainy and no stars in sight. When the sky is clear, I find myself breathless when I think that the stars I see tonight are the same stars I saw in the Andes and in the jungle and at my sister's house in Tuscany.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cinghiale and Cuy

It was 'Restaurant Week' in Baltimore from January 23 until February 1. By chance, I had arranged to take a friend out for her birthday (which was in November but she was in Costa Rica for her birthday and then it was Thanksgiving followed by Christmas and then I was in Ecuador) and finally we both had a night free. We decided to try a new restaurant called 'Cinghiale' which had stellar reviews. For $30 we could choose an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. I looked forward to having wild boar for dinner. I was familiar with the dish, because at my sister's home in Tuscany, wild boar were often in season, and a specialty of the area in which she lived. The farmer who worked her fields would complain about the cinghiale and how they would destroy his crops. In the morning, one would often find the hay matted down where they had been foraging. If I visited in November the hunters would be about, ready to shoot at anything that moved and looking for cinghiale. Spaghetti with wild boar sauce was often a special at the local restaurants and every time that I visited my sister she was sure to cook her own version for me.

There were pictures of wild boar on the walls of the restaurant, but sadly no wild boar on the menu, so I was dissappointed. I wondered if it was simply that wild boar would not sell well here, or that it was difficult to find. I wondered if Americans would choose such an item on the menu. Why call the restaurant 'Cinghiale' anyway?

What would not sell at all in the United States would be cuy, or guinea pig. Ecuadorian Andean people traditionally ate domesticated guinea pigs and this continues to be a specialty in Ecuador. Cuy is expensive and used for special occasions. In the past, people kept guinea pigs in their homes, and not only were they convenient food, they also played a role in healing. Guinea pigs could read the bad energy in people. Shamans would rub the live guinea pig all over an ailing person and then cut up the guinea pig and read the inside of the buinea pig as a clue to what was wrong with the unheathy human. If for example the liver of the guinea pig looked sick then that was the illness of the person.

After my first visit to Ecuador, I could not look at guinea pigs the same way. I cannot imagine eating a pet. I suppose it is no different than living on a farm and eating the cow or the pig one has raised. But I am not a farmer and I buy my meat cut up in chunks and wrapped in plastic and there is little personality in a slab of beef. Having this conversation makes vegetarianism look like a reasonable option. I am not sure I will ever try 'cuy' in Ecuador.