Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Spring is coming to Baltimore, it feels that suddenly the grass is green and the tulips and daffodils and crocuses are everywhere. And our move to Ecuador is ever closer. I am getting accustomed to informing my patients and colleagues and friends and neighbours and everyone I meet that I am leaving and each time I tell someone, it feels more real and more imminent.

I am still wading through papers and clothes and more junk than I ever imagined I could accumulate in a short seven years. It feels as if I am leaving my life behind forever, I will NEVER come back to this life, so I have to say goodbye every day.

I am amazed that I am still eager to go. I wonder if this is a convenient time to have a midlife crisis. I am leaving my life, a life I wanted to leave, a life I needed to leave. This is my chance to start anew, not just inside but in every way imaginable. If I was not going to Ecuador, I would simply be repeating the same life, and a year from now, nothing much would be different. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the life I lead. Interestingly, I look back and reflect that I have made huge changes in my life over and over through the years, so perhaps this is not such a stretch after all. I left Salt Lake City to follow Eric to Baltimore. I closed my practice, said goodbye to a life that I loved and struggled adjusting to a new city, a new job, a new husband. Prior to Salt Lake, I lived in Newport Beach, California, a place that I was entranced with every morning that I woke up to look over the water and marvel. I left a couple of years after my divorce and the end of my life as I knew it then. And I left Edmonton after my residency to do a fellowship in San Diego and to marry and have my first child. And I left Montreal and Rome and Ottawa and Vancouver, all wonderful places to live and difficult to leave. Moving to Ecuador is part of this pattern of my life, of leaving and starting over. I am trying to lucky to have this chance to renew, revitalize, restart....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Was This My Idea?

Eric asserted yesterday that I was the driving force behind this move. That is not exactly true. It was Eric who came up with the destination for his sabbatical. I have been ambivalent at every step. However, when he suggested at one point that this was altogether too BIG a move and that perhaps Montreal or another institution in the United States would be a wiser choice, my reaction was clear. Ecuador is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it would be folly not to take advantage of the possibility. That was before I knew that we had to empty the house, perhaps sell it, and for some reason it never occurred to me that I would not be working as a physician.

I did not realize that we would be living on such a reduced salary. I have no idea how to live simply and have never kept to a budget. I wonder if Eric sees this as an opportunity to change our lives so dramatically, that we can never go back to the life we once had. We have lived to excess for too long, much like the rest of the nation. The crisis in the economy has forced many to change the way they spend and the way they live. We will be doing the same.

I have to admit that I am not worried about our budget or our financial limitations. It is the balance of power between Eric and I that makes me uncomfortable. We have always kept our accounts separate and have spent our respective incomes without consultation. All the bills get paid including Tara's exorbitant NYU tuition, Maya's violin and ballet lessons, and my travel addiction. The difference will now be that I will have no money of my own and I cannot just spend carelessly without consulting with Eric. What will it be like to ask for grocery money or for personal things that I never hesitate to buy? Will I be on an allowance, much like my teen years? In truth, I began working by 14, so I am accustomed to having my own bank account and freedom to spend as I wish. For a very short time during my first marraiage, when I was waiting to get my green card and my license to practice medicine in the United States, I was dependent on my husband financially, but there was so much more going on beteween us then, that money was not an issue. This will be my first expereince as a 'dependent'. Who knows, I may enjoy it! I wonder if the relationship I have with Eric will not only be altered, but that we will never be able to go back to the way we were. This move will change our lives forever in may different ways.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Going to the Circus

Maya, Eric and I saw Kooza today, the latest Cirque de Soleil spectacular. It was magnificent. I began to wonder what we will do for entertainment in Quito. I like to go out and see movies, listen to music, experience theatre, try different foods. I am not one to stay at home and watch television or pursue hobbies. What do Ecuadorians do in the evening? How do they entertain themselves? When I dragged Erika out for a dance performance one night in Quito, she was not impressed and told us she preferred staying home. There were several events happening at the cultural center we visited. There is a theatre in the historical center of the city. It has been recently renovated, and when we visited, I was quite sure I saw a billboard with advertising of culturally relevant entertainment.

Being in a different culture will be interesting in and of itself. We will have new experiences daily, everything will be an adventure, so that evening entertainment may not be relevant anyway. But I am curious. There is a tradition of Ecuadorian traditional music and dance. When I visited the home of Ximena, a friend of a Spanish teacher and his wife who live in Baltimore but once stayed in the jungle in Ecuador and have contacts there. Ximena's husband Mauricio is a music professor and plays guitar. He composes music based on traditional Ecuadorian songs, and he and Ximena sang for me when I visited. He had a dozen guitars in his music room, and played some of his compositions. Some songs were typically Andean, but most sounded entirely different. I look forward to listening to more.

I spoke with my daughter Tara tonight. She is studying theatre in New York and is planning to move to Ecuador during the year we are there. She is taking a film class this semester and is very excited about bringing a camera to Ecuador and filming. I too am interested in filming when we are there. Tara is more interested in creating a story, but I want to document people and places of interest. With the software available, I believe this is entirely possible. We can film in digital, download to my laptop and create movies. I know I must learn so much about managing the software, but it is entirely doable. One more project during my stay in Ecuador. I have no time to learn how to make the movies now, but perhaps those evenings in Quito, I can spend time learning how to make movies!!!!

We will also be involved in the clssical music scene in Quito. Maya will want to play in an orchestra, as well as take lessons to improve her playing. I am sure, just as in our lives here in Balitmore, we will be attending her concerts and will get to know the musicians she plays with. Hopefully through her dance interest, we will also be exposed to the dance scene as well. I am so lucky to have such artistically oriented children.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Plane Crashes and Earthquakes

I heard last weekend, when Alejandra and Santiago were visiting with us in New York, that a plane had crashed in the area of Gonzales Suarez, one of the places Eric and I had chosen to live in Quito. The occupants of the plane were killed as well as some inhabitants on the ground. There was a fireball and panic. Apparently this we not the first time that this has happened! I quickly went online to find any articles or information about the incident, and of course there was a video of smoke and people running both toward and away from the scene. I imagined that I recognized the location. When searching for available apartments, I was more concerned about earthquake and fire safety. It is not unlikely that a volcano will erupt, or that an earthquake will occur in or around Quito while we live there. In that case I am not sure any one area is any safer than any other. It will be impossible to escape the city, even if there is a significant warning system.When I expressed my shock and dismay at such news, I was reassured that the likelihood of such an incident happening again in that same area was reduced and therefore Gonzales Suarez is safer than it was before the crash. Great reasoning!

Now that we have decided on Maya's school, which is at the northern end of Quito (and the city is spread out vertically to the north and south and limited east and west by high mountains), it makes sense to look further north for a place to live, which I have not considered until now.

Wherever we decide to live, all of us will be commuting a distance to work or school or whatever activities we participate in. If Tara decides to attend San Francisco de Quito University, she will experience the joys of an hour bus ride up and down a treacherous road and Maya will have at least a 45 minute school bus adventure each way. We will all be learning much about local public transportation. Eric and i discussed NOT having a car, but it may make sense to have one, although three out of four in the family will be taking buses.Eric dreams about having a truck so that he can haul large loads into the jungle.

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, planes crashing into residential areas, treacherous roads, undisciplined drivers (of course we have those in Baltimore too); these are very new and unfamiliar challenges!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lazy Days

Today was a day designed to accomplish a long list of tasks. I came to work early, saw my first patient, took a wonderful 90 minute hot yoga class, returned to my office and contemplated the piles of paper and items to attend to. Before I knew it, my two available hours had passed and more patients were scheduled. I wonder if the more time one has the less efficient one is. I have been winding down my practice for several weeks now and have two intense days on Tuesday and Thursday and half filled hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I try to make progress on paperwork and referring patients when I have free time, but I find myself preoccupied with everything but the work that must be finished.

I have always been efficient with my time, using every minute and starring in multi-tasking marathons. I am ordinarily proud of my effectiveness and my ability to do ten things at once. However, now that I have more time available, I find myself less and less effective. It happens at home as well. I have so much to do to get the house ready for sale/rent, but I find many other things to be preoccupied with, and accomplish little. I wonder if it is ambivalence about the move that slows me down, but at this point I am eager to get on with the move and experience my new adventure. I know from my patients (I learn everything there is to learn from my interactions with my patients and live vicariously through their experiences and therein become more and more aware) that retirement is a difficult adjustment, that it takes time and effort to sort oneself out after leaving work. One expects there to be an overabundance of time, but somehow that time fills up and often one accomplishes less and less.

So much must be done, there are no shortcuts, I will have to put in the time, both at the office and at home. I feel that I am a hostage, and cannot move forward without finishing the work on the house, moving out of my office, placing all my patients, getting my passport and a visa, finding a home for my dog, organizing Maya's school, Tara's university plans etc etc etc. This is where Eric comes in. He complains incessantly of not getting through his list of priorities, and I find him frustratingly unfocused most of the time, however, when it is essential, he is brutally efficient, and can storm through housework and cleaning and organizing. Most importantly, he is able to get rid of junk, without second thoughts, without hesitation. That is a useful skill at this point.

And so I sit in my bed listening to Maya play the violin, playing on my computer, thinking of everything that I must do and then return to the music.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tax Time!

Oh dear, it is tax time and I have been avoiding facing this unavoidable misery for as long as possible. Eric's attitude is that it is a privilege to be paying taxes, it means that we are earning money and that is a good thing. I am always frustrated because I never feel that I have enough deductions. I am brutally honest and do not claim anything that I do not have proof of. And my accountant is not creative or slippery, and I get away with nothing. I am always shocked when my patient who makes maybe 30 million dollars a year comes to my office thrilled that he has once again been able to whittle his tax burden to less than I am paying!!!! I am shocked every time I hear it. I do not ask how he does it, it just reminds me that life is not fair.

Tax time is usually a reason to travel to Salt Lake City and ski. My accountant happens to live in Salt Lake and has taken care of my taxes for more than a decade. Spring break for Tara used to be in mid March, so in the past I would take Maya out of school for the week, and we would have a wonderful week of snow and social engagements. We would most often have a huge snowstorm when we arrived, and have powder each day, or the sun would shine furiously for incredible spring skiing. Maya started on skis when she was three years old, as did Tara when we lived in Salt Lake. Tara moved on to snowboarding during her teenage years, but had been moving back to skiing the last couple of years. Maya always insisted on skiing. I absolutely love to ski. I began to ski more seriously when I lived in Salt Lake, and for several years was skiing 30 to 40 days a year. I did not want to leave the city in the winter because I did not want to miss a powder day. Moving to Baltimore was difficult in many ways, but not skiing my 40 days was painful. I do get 7-10 days each season, and I look forward to it all year, and appreciate every moment on the slopes. Evenings are all booked with friends and dinner and catching up socially. A visit to the accountant was always part of the agenda.

This is the first year in 17 that I have not been skiing. The end of the season approaches and it is unlikely that I will have my ski week. And so I am resigned to doing my taxes in my bed in my house in Baltimore. They say there are two sure things in life, death and taxes. That sounds rather awful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Simpler Life

Eric is looking forward to a simpler life. He believes our year in Ecuador will be life-altering. We will be moving to Quito with a suitcase each, without expecting to accumulate much. I agree with Eric when he makes his pronouncements about our alternative lifestyle, but I truly know nothing about living quietly and simply. I have been waiting to slow down for years now, and I continue to wait. I convince myself to let things go, and I make efforts to streamline my schedule, but my time is quickly filled up with other activities and responsibilities., and I am running running running.

I look forward to having less junk. It is stunning to see what I have managed to accumulate in the seven years we have lived in our house. I remember getting rid of more than half of my belongings when we moved from Salt Lake. I loved the spareness of every room in our new home, and I recall telling myself that I wanted to keep from filling up every space. Somehow my resolve did not last, and every room filled up. I am delighted again with the rooms that are empty. I am resolved again to keep my new spaces spare and light and open.

Eric has expressed concern that I will become unhinged if I am not working. I have no idea what my life will be without work as the foundation. I have a place to go every day. There is always a purpose to my existence. I take care of patients, and then I come home and take care of my children and my husband and my dog and the fish and the house. I wake up at 6:30 and fall into bed exhausted after midnight.

I look forward to sleeping more, NOT having a schedule, having time to read, explore a new city, pursuing projects and interests, perfecting my Spanish, meeting new people, trying new recipes, learning about Adobe Photoshop, playing with Maya, talking to Tara without doing three or four other tasks at the same time, writing letters, keeping a diary...the list goes on and on. I imagine that I will have the time to do all the things I never have time for. I expect to enjoy my new life so much that I will be unable to return to my former (current) life. I anticipate feeling free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We are making progress on the house. Eric began with hours and hours late in the evening before we left for Ecuador, but since we returned, he has been less focused. Part of my lack of enthusiasm was simply an expression of my ambivalence. I did not want to sell, and am still uncertain about selling, but since our return, I have been pushing through piles and piles of clothes and books. I had not entered into my expansive walk-in closet for years; I was horrified to find a mouse running across the top of the hanging clothes one day when looking for Halloween attire. That was it! I refused to use the closet, but did pile up unused papers and clothing and whatever else I did not want to look at. The closet filled up with debris, and I am learning that the mice continued to make their homes amongst the papers and rejected clothing. There must have been some sustenance for them as well, else they would not have made themselves comfortable in my space. Whenever I opened the door to the closet I could smell the presence of the mice, so I refused to wear any clothes or shoes that might otherwise have worked for me.

I am disgusted by what I find, but am also delighted to see that items I thought I had lost and continue to value are presenting themselves. I am washing everything with bleach, and packing all that I do not give away. Last week I had a call from American Veterans, who picked up three large plastic bags of clothing, which was convenient. I am hoping that I will find some long lost and forgotten treasures that I gave up on finding years ago.

I am choosing to keep a very small selection of clothing for my time in Ecuador. The weather in Quito is spring-like all year, with some rain and wind, but relatively mild and comfortable. I will not be working formally so suits and elegant clothing is unnecessary. Ordinarily I do not dress casually. The new me in Ecuador will be T-shirts and jeans. I have never been a T-shirt and jeans person, so I will be transformed on the outside. I have decided that there is very little clothing that I will actually need. Eric wears jeans and a shirt daily, and is comfortable and unselfconsicous. I wonder if this new me will feel like me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Recovery and Fate

I interviewed a psychiatrist who may be perfect for my office. It is vital that I find someone who will connect well with my patients, and I definitely have a good feeling about her. There are several interested psychiatrists and I will interview each of them in the next few days A woman is preferable This one is willing to start immediately and gradually build up her practice. I am not worried about restarting when I return; either my patients will join me on not. I do not have any expectations about that. I am less and less anxious about the transition. I have a nurse practitioner at my old office who is very competent as well. I was SO worried that it would be a struggle to find a good fit for each of my patients, but I am feeling more confident about placing each of them.

The more details fall into place, the more it feels that this move is right for us. It is as if fate is working with us when good things happen. Last week the bad news about the house gave me doubts. Is this a good move for us, is the dismal housing situation a sign that this move to Ecuador is a poor choice?

I guess it changes day to day. Generally the scale tips in favour of the move. Making a decision about Maya's school is a plus, the measured transfer of my practice is positive, the exciting projects which are evolving are beckoning. The only negative so far is the house sale and our dismal economic status, which count for alot. Most days, I am feeling positive and hopeful and excited and energized.

I am most concerned about my daughter Tara, who does appear to be interested in joining us for the year in Ecuador. I asked that she organize her year, either volunteering or going to university. I expected her to make inquiries and arrange it all. I thought that would demonstrate her interest and enthusiasm. I worry that she is just trying to get away from New York rather than eager to explore a new culture and adventure. I did not want my energy to pull her to Ecuador, I wanted all the motivation to come from her. I do not think she realizes what to expect. Our meager means will be unfamiliar to her, and I am worried that she will be frustrated with our limitations, which will become hers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whirlwind in New York City

We waited until Maya finished her dance performance last night and drove directly from Baltimore to New York. Thankfully Maya fell asleep in the car and almost slept through the transfer to our hotel room. We stayed right on Time Square, but just for seven hours. We met Alejandra at the Border's Bookstore at Penn Station. Alejandra is from Quito, and has spent the last two months at the Smithsonian in Washington DC taking a course at the Natural History Museum on curating. Her fiance is Santiago, and he is a biologist at PUCE, the university where Eric will be working in Ecuador. Santiago was collaborating with some scientists at CUNY and was working with them for a week. We coordinated our schedules to meet in New York for a few hours.

Our whirlwind tour of New York with Alejandra started with a walk to Time Square, a visit to ToysRUs and the M and M store (at Maya's insistence), watching the filming of a commercial for HP touchscreen laptop computers on Time Square, and a drive up past Central Park through Harlem and onward to meet Santiago near CUNY. We were on our way to one of my favourite bistro restaurants near Columbia University, when I received a phonecall from Maya's violin teacher to meet her and the accompanist at the latter's apartment in Fort Lee (across the river on the George Washington Bridge). So Maya had a piece of chocolate cake for lunch in the car and off we sped. Thankfully for GPS, I arrived early for our meeting. There was little time for practice, and off we sped again to South Orange and Seton Hall University where Maya had her ten minute audition/competition, an hour lesson and we were back speeding through the Lincoln Tunnel to meet Eric, Alejandra and Santiago, who had been wandering through Manhattan for the afternoon, visiting the Empire State Building and the Time Warner Center. We met for a carriage ride through Central Park and dinner at the Carnegie Diner, a drive to 177th street to pick up Santiago's suitcase, and a dash to West Orange to drop Alejandra and Santiago off, and more driving back to Baltimore. Eric and I shared the drive home, both of us far too exhausted to drive in a straight line. We missed Tara who flew back from Canada and arrived after we left for home.

The best part of the day was Alejandra's wide open eyes and exclamations of awe as we wandered through the city. It felt as if she was breathing in each moment, committing every experience to memory, appreciating every morsel that New York had to offer. I am charged every time I visit New York City, and the excitement does not diminish with familiarity. What a joy it is to share this incredible city with someone who is so impressed! I feel so lucky to have this city as a part of my regular existence. Having Tara at NYU has brought New York City to me in a new way. I realize I have been visiting Manhattan since 1982. I was doing my internship in Montreal at the time, and it was possible to drive to Burlington, Vermont and take 'People's Express', the first discount airline, for $29 each way to New York. I have explored the city almost yearly until Tara started at NYU two years ago, and now I visit at least once monthly. There is always more to explore, new corners to exclaim at, more activities to participate in. Maya will be performing at Merkin Hall in three weeks, her first concert debut in New York, so I am looking forward to another exciting visit a few weeks hence!

Whew! Eric just mentioned that our 24 hour mad rush through New York is not a new experience for us. When we returned from the Galapagos, we drove to Ahuano and back in 24 hours to check out the Casa del Suizo, and that drive was five to six hours each way!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yoga and Pilates

I teach pilates twice a week at a gym in Baltimore. I have been instructing for five years and am still as enthusiastic and motivated about teaching as I was when I started. I completed hundreds of hours of training through Power Pilates in New York. Looking back on it I am utterly amazed that I would have put so much time and effort and expense to learn a new career. I teach entirely for fun, and cannot imagine depending on it for my existence. On the other hand, many people teach pilates for a living and do well. Since I cannot get a license to practice medicine in Ecuador, and will not be a psychiatrist for a year (does one ever stop being a psychiatrist?), I wonder if I will find a studio that will hire me. Of course I will have to teach in Spanish!

Yoga does not come naturally to me. Perhaps my body is too old or not designed to be a pretzel. When I bring my daughters with me to a yoga class, I am stunned at how pliable their young bodies are. Maya was told that she was a yogi in her former life. After years of false starts, I finally became committed to trying yoga when the back surgeon I saw told me that it was not a matter of if but when I would resort to surgery to relieve the pain in my lower back. I was determined NOT to pursue the surgery and decided that I would do all I could to improve the pain with alternative methods. Yoga was supposed to open up the space between the vertebrae. I found yoga practice to be awfully painful the first several months. Only very very gradually did I improve. I chose a power yoga class that was 90 minutes long and in a stiflingly hot and humid room. I have improved, but still move like a novice. What is significant is that the pain is better when I regularly go and use pilates principles to protect my lower back. For six weeks in the fall, I joined a meditation group which met weekly. I was never able to meditate for any length of time, or at least I did not make the effort. But I practiced yoga five to six times weekly, and that made a difference for my back. I am a convert now, and try to get there at least three times weekly.

Sid is the yoga instructor who owns and runs the yoga studio. He is guru and hero to many. My daughter Tara was an instant fan when she joined me in the sutdio, and Maya wants to practice yoga only with Sid. It is Sid who is bringing the yoga group to the Amazon. I am helping with organization and practicalities. He will lead the group and make it a life altering experience. The more I imagine this trip we have planned the more excited and enthusiastic I am. It will be awesome!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Art and Dance

When Maya and I were together in Quito this January looking for schools and neighbourhoods, we met a dance professor from Colorado, who was guest starring in a performance at the Casa Cultural. I was looking for a good dance school for Maya, without success, so I decided to check out the recital to see what style of contemporary dance was current in Quito. I dragged Erika (who never goes out in the evening and prefers to stay home) to the recital.

I think Erika was shocked. The show was avant garde and often distressing. I was squirming in my seat throughout the performance. Maya was less affected, but I think we were all confused by the raw emotion and the ugliness of the movements and the lack of art in it. I did not understand if it was Ecuadorian or American or both. The choreographers were from both countries.

After the show, Maya and I were introduced to the dancers and their friends, and we asked questions about where to find a good ballet teacher for Maya. In Baltimore, Maya dances about eight hours a week, mostly ballet, but she also has a contemporary dance class, which she enjoys. After the distubing performance, I was eager to leave as soon as possible and did not want to know where to look for a dance teacher. I was unsettled for hours afterward.

Tonight, Maya performed with the Full Circle Dance company at the Baltimore Musem of Art. She belonged to a dance club at her school last year and her group choreographed and performed a dance they called 'Nightmare'. They have been asked to perform it serveral times since their debut, and they were part of the performance tonight, which was wonderful. It was modern dance, but was accessible, I could relate to the stories and the dancing and I loved it. Maya's dance fit in with the theme of dreams and nightmares. I was impressed.

Maya's ballet teachers are all worried about what Maya will do when in Ecuador and whether she will fall behind in her skills. They tell me to find a private Russian teacher who will be tough on her. One teacher asks me to leave Maya with him so he can keep her on track. I have decided that if dance happens for Maya in Ecuador, great, but if not, she can pick up where she left off when we return to Baltimore. Who knows, she may get into very modern work or be exposed to traditional dancing, or better yet, she will salsa and tango and learn how to move her hips in that wonderful Latin way, which I cannot do, and have always wished that I could.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reality Blast

It was with much resistance this morning that I met with the real estate this morning and received the bad news, which was that our house was worth much less than I imagined. The economy has taken dive after dive and the house values keep sinking. She was insistent that we price our house lower than other like houses to ensure a quick sale. She is the expert, so I must defer to her, but I could not sign the papers. They remain on the dining room table. I dare not look.

Added to my ambivalence, this disappointing information makes it more difficult to move forward. I am paralyzed when I see the piles of clothes and books and clothes that litter the rooms on the second floor. I remind myself that the work must be done whether we sell or rent.

I made very little profit on my last house. I moved just after the tragedy of 9-11, and the country was in a state of fear and houses were not moving then. Again, I am selling when the market is depressed. Of course, many people are losing their homes, jobs, retirements, hopes and dreams, so missing out on a profit is not the worst that could happen. Eric shrugs his shoulders. It is what it is. I have never made money without working for it. No great investments, no bonuses, nothing but an hourly wage, every penny worked for. So be it.

Eric keeps bringing me back to reality. We will live on half his income next year. I cannot imagine that, because with my income, we make more than six times what we will live on next year. I have no idea how to live with such limitations. In a way, I am looking forward to the challenge, and we will be living in a country where the cost of living is significantly less than here, but not six times less. Part of the adventure is simply making this adjustment and learning to live with less and appreciating the experience. I don't believe Eric has much faith in me, he is clearly worried. I wonder what he thinks will happen.

Another part of the reality is that for the first time since I was 16 or so and began working for money, I have been accustomed to the freedom of earning for myself. When I have felt the need or the wish, I have been able to go to the bank and withdraw whatever I have wanted from my stash. For the first time, I will be entirely dependent on someone else to provide for me. What will it be like to ask for money for food, or a coffee, or for underwear, or for face cream or shampoo or for a pedicure? It will be an entirely new experience.

This will change the dynamics between Eric and me. I will be dependent on him for my survival. Will that make us unequal? Will I be his subordinate? Will it make me crazy? Will I be resentful, angry, stepped on, powerless?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Italy Versus Ecuador

I talked to Madelaine, a student at my pilates class today. I learned that she spends the summers in Italy. Her husband teaches art to MICA students in Montegiovi, a small town in the Maremma, not far from Grossetto, and therefore not too far from Montemassi, where my sister Karen had a home for fifteen years. Madeleine was familiar with Castiglione della Pescaia, with the sculpture garden of Niki San Phalle, with the Etruscan villages throughout the valley. It was surprising to encounter someone who is has intimate knowledge of a part of the world that I have visited many many times in my life! It also happens to be one of my absolute favourite parts of the world.

Madeleine is very enthusiastic about my plans to move to Ecuador. I expressed my envy at her yearly two month sojourn in Tuscany. For Madeleine summers in Italy are ordinary, and a year in Ecuador is exotic and a great adventure. I would move to Italy in an instant if it were possible. I suggested to Eric that he take a sabbatical in Italy, but it appeared the opportunities were limited. For Eric, there was really no other choice but Ecuador. The electric fish that he investigates happen to come from the Amazon, he feels comfortable in Quito and in the jungle and after visiting at least once yearly, he knows so many people there, perhaps more than he knows in Baltimore!

I would be excited about a year in Italy, but am equally thrilled with a year in South America. I am not sure I would describe it as exotic. It is certainly new and different and adventuresome and life changing. Our lives will never be the same after this year away. We will have an entirely new perspective on our lives and the world. We will learn another language, adjust to a new culture, experience all sorts of obstacles and perspectives. I wonder if we can come home again. Of course, we will be coming home, Eric has no choice with regard to Johns Hopkins and the rules of the sabbatical. But I do have this fantasy or suspicion that we may fall in love with our lives in Quito and not want to return.

I spoke with a woman who had spent a year with her husband and daughter in Otavalo. She was a patient of a colleague of mine. She was incredibly nostalgic about her year in Ecuador and was worried about her daughter, who wanted desperately to return. She had only good things to say about the people and the culture and the experience.

My excitement is mounting. I feel incredibly lucky. Italy, Ecuador, both beckon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saying It Makes It Real

I am definitively telling each patient I see that I will be leaving at the end of June and that I will be transferring their care to someone else. I have had to make a conscious effort, and I have struggled. Most are fine with it, some are hesitant, many are dismayed. I reassure them, telling them that they will be well taken care of. And of course they will be, I am replaceable, their care will not be interrupted.

I have found myself putting off this inevitable step, suddenly realizing that I have only three months left to end my practice. My identity is tied to my work and my relationships with my patients, I feel close and connected to many of them and I will miss seeing them regularly and catching up with their lives. It is a curious relationship, that of a patient and a psychiatrist.

So I am finally really saying my goodbyes to each patient, transferring their care to new therapists and doctors, making this move more real. Telling someone of my plans every hour or half-hour makes it real over and over again. Tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, I will be repeating the same story.

I am avoiding preparing the house for sale. I wonder if I was ill Sunday as a way to prevent contact with the real estate agent this week. Talking to her is another step in making this move more real again. I am resistant to this change even if I want to move and start this new life of ours. On the other hand, I feel we have started our move and that our hearts are in Ecuador already and we are just taking care of necessary details.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I have recovered from whatever it was that attacked me yesterday, so I think it was a Baltimore bug, which could just as well be an Ecuadorian bug. And I did not take the Cipro. Whew!

I spent the day getting my office in order. I am looking for someone to take each of my patients. Not all of them will suit one psychiatrist. I am urged to sell my practice, but I am uncomfortable profiting from patients in that way, it does not seem right for me although I know that physicians do it all the time. I did not sell my practice in Salt Lake City when I left and won't do it now. Of course I expect to be back in a year anyway.

I made a decision about Maya's school. I asked her which one she wanted to go to and whether the 45 minute ride each way morning and evening would bother her. She reassured me that she would do her homework and read in the bus, but I hope it becomes a social event for her. I am relieved to have made a decision finally, and will next start planning where we will look for an apartment. I like that we will be in Quito a month or two before school starts, which will give me time to explore places to live and take my time making a choice. When I moved to Baltimore, Eric and his parents chose the house, so it took years for me to feel it was my home. Now that we are leaving the house I am having a hard time letting it go, but I did not feel good in it for a long time after we moved here. I am relieved that I have participated and will continue to play a role in finding our new home in Quito.

So things are falling into place. I am looking at piles of clothes all over my room, urging myself to get moving and get the boxes organized. We have a real estate agent coming to the house this Thursday and I cannot imagine that it will be ready for her inspection. Eric is finally open to the possibility of renting rather than selling our house in a very down market. I am relieved that I will come home to a house that I own rather than having to look for a new one. We have an ad in the Johns Hopkins Gazette. Crossing my fingers for now.

I am listening to Maya play the violin. She is preparing for a competition in New Jersey on the weekend, and her Bach, which had been amazing a few weeks ago (she won a competition playing it) is very rusty. We are working to get it ready with a certain amount of screaming and upset. I have yet to find a violin teacher for her in Quito. I will think about that when I get there. We will have to find an orchestra for her too.

I am quite confident that we find what we need in Quito. Everything seems possible for us there.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cipro and GI Challenges

I am sooooo sick today, in my own house, in my own bathroom. I am always so worried when I am in Ecuador. We are given bottled water at the hotels and on the boat and are told only to drink and to brush our teeth with bottled water and I always forget to, and end up at least brushing with tap water. I expect to become ill and so far, it has not happened in Ecuador. I am not sure what that means. Does it mean that the water is safer than I am told? That after five visits to Ecuador my body has adjusted to the foreign antigens? Anyway, somehow I was spared any gastrointestinal challenges there, but am sick as a dog back in Baltimore.

Eric hands me a Cipro, his solution for all GI suffering in any city. I handed out the Cipro to all the travelers who were ill on the trip, and there were several. It is not worth spending any extra time in the toilet, not on vacation and not at home. When leading groups of students or the alumni, I play the role of physician, not that I know much, being a psychiatrist, but I did go to medical school many years ago and was a general practitioner for a few years. In truth, I am not that knowledgeable about general medicine, but with Cipro, I can at least treat most garden-variety gastrointestinal illnesses anywhere.

I am not sure when and where I was poisoned. I ate with Tara yesterday; she had forgotten her passport in Baltimore ( she called in a panic three times at 3AM Saturday morning looking for her passport and we found it at home) and needed it for her trip to Canada which left at 8 AM this Sunday morning from New York. She was obliged to take the Chinatown bus from New York to Baltimore, and I picked her up at 2:30 and swept her away to her favourite diner in Baltimore. We decided to share a special 'German Apple Pancake' which took over 30 minutes to bake. We were the last customers in the diner, waiting for our special pancake. It was gargantuan, big enough for far more than two people. While waiting we snacked on fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries, so the huge pancake was even more challenging to eat. We brought home more than half. Anyway, Tara caught the 5:45 bus back to New York and is not ill, so I presume it was not our massive Ms. Shirley's pancake that caused this illness.

I worked on cleaning out closets last night and found lots of evidence of mouse infestation in the house, all horrible and disgusting and worrisome; how much does mouse residue impact us? I remember when I had myself allergy tested, when needles impregnated with all sorts of allergens are pressed into the skin all up and down the arms and I discovered that I am allergic to dust and cats and dogs and cockroaches and mice. Another excuse for me not to clean out the dark and deep nether regions of the house. In truth, Eric has been doing most of the cleaning. I was so ambivalent about selling the house initially, and did not want to move it forward enough to make it a reality. Now that I am more comfortable with selling or renting, I want to get on with it and make it happen!

Friends came over for brunch today. I made quiche lorraine and salad and coffee cake, and everyone ate large quantites and no one is ill but me. I sent Eric off with Maya to her violin lesson. I was going to tell Maya's violin teacher today about our move to Ecuador. I have been afraid to disappoint her; she has so many hopes and expectations for Maya; to study at Manahattan School of Music next year and move on to precollege at Julliard. I have thus far been unable to find a good teacher for Maya in Quito, as well as an orchestra that will work for her. I am sure that when we get there we will be more successful, we need to learn more about the possibilities. Perhaps the best thing anyway is to ask Ms Elizabeth if she knows anyone there. Moving to Quito a month earlier is a good idea, it will give me time to explore possibilities for Maya. I met a clarinetist from Texas on the elevator at the Hotel Hilton Colon, and he told us that he was helping the Quito Philharmonic improve. He suggested that we contact the concertmaster, who was from Switzerland but spent alot of time in Quito and may be able to instruct Maya. I fully expect all sorts of opportunities to present themselves when we settle ourselves into our new home.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Where the Heart is

There has been a significant change in my sense of home. My heart has moved on to Ecuador. Being in Baltimore means taking care of all the details before we leave, and in truth, we have loads to do and not enough time to take care of everything. But my mind and my heart are thinking forward to our lives in Quito.

I have no idea of what our lives will be like. So far, I have been a tourist there several times, which is not at all like living there. What my day to day existence there will be, how I will take care of everyday tasks, how I will make friends, how I will coordinate our lives, all this will sort itself out when we are there.

We are lucky to be staying with Isabel when we arrive. Erika will be in Syracuse studying for her masters, David will be in another institution, Erika's sister will be in Oregon. So it will be just Isabel and Maya and myself and Eric will come later in August. Hopefully Maya and I will be comfortable in Spanish by the time school starts. We will take our time exploring places to live. This will be the first time since childhood that I will not have a workplace to go to, I will be able to choose what I wish to do each day. I imagine I will explore Quito at first, and still be a tourist for a while. At some point I will want to start exploring the rest of Ecuador on weekends and school vacations. I may or may not teach at San Fransisco de Quito University, I may or may not find a volunteer position. I know I will write and take photos for Eric's books. I may enjoy my freedom so much I will not want to 'work'. Eric believes that I will uncomfortable being idle and will feel compelled to work more regularly. I anticipate being thrilled with my choices and will take advantage of the possibilities that present themselves.

I will essentially be 'retired' for a year, how strange that sounds. Eric will get up every day and go to the university. I will get Maya ready for school and make sure she gets on teh bus and then I will contemplate my day. How bizarre and unknown and wonderful that sounds!


Friday, March 13, 2009


My focus has been on my younger daughter Maya and what school she will choose for our year in Ecuador. However I am far more concerned about my oldest daughter Tara, who studies theatre at NYU. At first I just presumed she would come with Eric, Maya and I and work or volunteer or attend university in Quito. I was very excited to see the students on the tropical ecology course on the boat in Galapagos and asked the professor about whether NYU would give her credit for studying biology for her year abroad. I enthuiastically told Tara that she should enroll in the course for a semester. But then I realized that I was the one who was excited about the course and not Tara, that I would be thrilled to be taking it, but that Tara may not be interested at all.

Tara has been ambivalent about joining us in Ecuador. I think she wants to get away from NYU and experience something different, but is not sure of what she would do there. There is no program that NYU would give her credit for, so if she did come, it would be a year off. I have suggested that she explore one of the many volunteer possibilities available in the country, and I believe she is looking into it, and she is taking a Spanish course once a week in preparation

My father objected to her suggestion that she take a year off, feeling that finishing her degree was her priority. Eric felt that she would feel restrained and frustrated living with us after being on her own for two years ( you cannot go home again). He too would like her to plan a volunteer job or university course of study, so that she is busy and active during a year away.

I do not want to leave her alone in New York. Of course, she is entirely capable of managing on her own there and in no way needs her mother, but Quito and Ecuador are very far away and not very accessible. I also believe it is such an incredible opportunity to be in Ecuador for a year. I remember each sabbatical that my father took as a professor was a marvelous adventure for the family. This is the chance that she has now, NYU will be there for her next year or the year after.

I know not to push it. I have learned with Tara that the more I push, the less effective I am. I have learned to make suggestions. Tara makes her own choices, follows her own path, will go her own way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Learning Spanish

I don't speak Spanish yet. I muddle through when in Ecuador and am amazed at how much I actually understand. If I focus, I can almost understand everything, or at least the general sense of what I hear. Isabel is from the coast and speaks much more rapidly than the Quiteños, and I was able to keep up with her. I have had the intent for years now to make the effort to learn Spanish and have taken an evening course at Johns Hopkins on two occasions. I am always enthusiastic at first, but get bogged down by the grammar and lose my focus halfway through the eight session course. I do better when I join in a conversation and forget about the grammar. That went over well for years, until I took a weeklong course in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico last June, and my teacher scolded me for speaking without thinking and messing up my grammar. I am more hesitant now, and let Eric speak for me whenever possible. Eric's Spanish is much better, and he speaks in more than one tense. Last year he gave a talk about his research at the university in Ecuador and was able to make himself understood I was so impressed!

I am told repeatedly that Maya will learn the language easily. Isabel suggested we leave Maya with her for a few weeks in the summer and she will teach her Spanish. I am not sure I am ready to leave Maya with anyone, but I may decide to come to Quito a month early to put Maya in a Spanish speaking environment so she will be more prepared when school starts. Quito is known for its Spanish schools, which is an option for me, but it will be more effective simply to be in a Spanish environment where the signs, the television, the radio and the people around me speak nothing but Spanish.

The language is beautiful. I like hearing it. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to learn it. It is useful in so many countries including the United States. Miami airport feels like a city in South America. Everyone is speaking Spanish. When I get stuck in immigration for any reason I am spoken to in Spanish, which is always a curious experience. Southern California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico are all bilingual.

My priority for Maya during her year in school in Ecuador is to learn Spanish. If she learns nothing but Spanish in school it will be a success. The same goes for me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where is Home?

We arrived home late, the house looked great, Maya and Monica did well together, Maya's violin teacher texted me just as we landed and told me that Maya won second in her violin competition and will play in New York in April. Work was busy with patients and messages and prescriptions, but I had time to drive Monica to the airport in the early afternoon, got Maya to her ballet class, taught my pilates class, got homework done, Maya bathed and in bed. A usual sort of working day.

So amazingly different from my life the past few weeks, cruising through the Galapagos, driving into the jungles and up in the highlands, planning our lives in Ecuador. I am going back and forth about the school decision and tried to ask Maya and she was not much bothered about the 45 minute drive to and from school. I asked my father about it, and I remembered that when I lived in Rome as a child, I went to the Overseas School and lived almost an hour away in a more modern part of the city called EUR. It had been built by Mussolini and had huge neoclassic buildings and we lived in a fourteenth floor apartment with marble floors and massive windows. I don't recall being disturbed by the endless drive through the clogged streets. I loved my school and riding on the bus was actually fun.

Our year in Ecuador will significantly impact Maya's life. I was in Rome only a few years as a child, and think back on the time with nostalgia and an incurable wish to return. I don't believe a year goes by without a visit to Rome or Venice or Florence. My sister Karen had a home in Tuscany for years, and I felt very lucky to see her there regularly. I wonder if Maya will fall in love with Ecuador in the same way and return to live there one day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Waiting, Traveling Home

Waiting in airports, waiting for any form of transportation, waiting is part of the Ecuadorian experience. We are told to arrive at the airport three hours early, which we almost did. Sometimes the time is absolutely necessary and the lines long and frustrating, but today we breezed through and the saving grace is free internet in the waiting area. This time our flight is not delayed, at least not so far. I am working hard not to buy anything. There are several wonderful souvenir shops lined up almost like a gauntlet as we wind through the hallways to our gate. I remind myself that I have bought so much from Ecuador and that whatever I buy I will have to pack up or bring right back to Quito. The reality of actually living here is hitting me. I left most of my jungle clothes at Erika's house, knowing that I will not be going to the jungle anywhere but in Ecuador and it made no sense to bring the clothes home to Baltimore and then back to my new home in Quito. I left my leather jacket as well. Eric left his Ecuador books. We have started our household in Quito. The move is more tangible, more real.

I finally had time on the plane to read my book about Fitzroy, the captain of the Beagle when Darwin took his five year trip to South America and the Galapagos Islands. The focus was on Fitzroy, but the book never really offered an understanding of the man and his motivations. He was a tragic figure, completely overshadowed by Darwin and Darwin's later publications and theories. The interesting part of the book was Fitzroy's interest in the indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego. Fitzroy captured three natives and brought them to England where he had them educated, hoping to return them to their home cultured and British. He was successful in his efforts to teach them about western ways, but when they returned to their home over a year later, they quickly reverted to their more primitive ways. Fitzroy was desperately disappointed in his 'experiment'. Unfortunately, in time more and more westerners came to settle in the area and the Fuegians succumbed to disease and ultimately disappeared and became extinct.

Fitzroy was successful in his efforts to map the coast of South America and came back to England a hero, but never found himself once he came home. He was entirely eclipsed by Darwin and his discoveries and theories. In the end Fitzroy suicided but cutting his throat with a razor. The book alludes to a family history of insanity, and Fitzroy was described by Darwin to have a terrible temper and to have had bouts of despair. I presume he had a depressive illness. Interestingly, the captain of the Beagle who Fitzroy had replaced had killed himself on the Beagle in Tierra del Fuego. Morbid.

Fitzroy was horrified by Darwin's conclusions. He became more and more religious and was unsuccessful in his efforts to counter the views of Darwin and like minded scientists. Fitzroy became and was more and more irrelevant.

I should have slept on the plane. Our layover in Miami is an endless six hours. We have walked the length of the airport looking for edible food without success. I will remember next time to leave the airport and visit South Beach, where there are wonderful restaurant choices.

Our move to Ecuador is imminent. I feel panicky when I contemplate the list of tasks to accomplish in a few short months. We must prepare our house for sale and sell it (ha!), I must terminate with my patients and find new therapists and psychiatrists for all (daunting), we must get our visas, prepare our children, pack our lives into a few suitcases, find a place to live, choose a school for Maya...the list is long.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Make a Decision!!!!!

Quito was bright and sunny and warm and inviting this morning. The sky was clear, and the view of the mountains all around the city was spectacular . It would have been a perfect day to take the funicular, but today was not a day for sightseeing. We slept in to avoid traffic and then drove to Cumbaya to visit the Colegio Aleman. The road to Cumbaya is too long to manage every day, so unless we live in the valley, it is unlikely we would choose this school. The Colegio is quite wonderful, but Maya cannot be admitted because she speaks no German. In the early years, non-German speaking students are admitted and learn to speak the language, so by the time they are Maya's age, they are fluent. There is an entrance exam which she would not pass. Unfortunately I loved the school, so I was very sad that I had never taken the time to teach Maya German. The University San Fransico de Quito was close by, so Eric tried to connect with the professor we had met on the Santa Cruz, Kelly Swing, who runs the tropical ecology course through Boston University. The students on the course were so enthusiastic and were on their way to Tiputini Research Station deep in the jungle after their week in the Galapagos. Kelly was teaching a class when we arrived at the university, so we pressed on. We picked Isabel up to direct us to SEK, which is located a short distance from Jipijapa (wonderful name), the area in which she lives. Eric had not yet seen the school, and was more positive about it than I expected. It appears that the school is accustomed to children who do not speak Spanish and they expect to integrate Maya smoothly and easily into their program. I liked SEK the first time I saw it, but have polled all sorts of Ecuadorians about their opinion of the school, and most feel it is not academically challenging.

We returned to Colegio Alberto Einstein, which feels like the best option for us except that it is very far from where we plan to live. Maya would be on a bus almost an hour each morning and afternoon. I am not sure that is tolerable.

So once again, I do not know what to do and am no nearer making a decision that I was a month ago. Does it really matter how academically superior her school is if we are here for only a year?

We had an adventure this evening. The yoga group will stay in a lodge just outside of Quito when they are here, and I wanted to see if it would work for them. When I asked where it was, no one had heard of it. We looked for the Ecolodge San Jorge online and they had a great website but scanty directions. Our friend David offered to guide us and off we drove to the northwest of the city up the side of a mountain high over the city in the dark. The road was unpaved and not so inviting. Finally we reached the hacienda at an altitude of 3000 metres. I imagine the view is incredible during the day. It turned out that the lodge work well for the group, so I was reassured. Both Casa del Suizo and San Jorge will be a great adventure.

I have also decided to come to Quito earlier that I originally planned. Maya will have a chance to learn Spanish before school starts and I will help with the yoga group. It will be an opportunity to have more adventures.

Return to Quito March 8, 2009

The Napo moves quickly through the bend in the river, and the noise outside our cabin was loud. I struggled falling asleep and woke up earlier than I had planned. Eric and I stayed up late with Andrés at the bar, exchanging stories, laughing, anticipating our move to Ecuador. I was asleep by 1:30, I know Eric came in much later. There was a knock at the door at 9:30 this morning, one of the staff asking us if we planned to come to breakfast. All the guests were off on their adventures for the day. Benny was at Casa del Suizo with friends from Switzerland. He was planning to take them down the Napo by canoe to Sacha later in the week. Andrés had been there with his wife and children to see Benny, it was unusual for him to be in Ecuador twice in two months.

We wandered around the property, looking for places where the group of 30 could practice yoga, checked out the town of Ahuano, looked at where the guests would stay, where the boats left, what sorts of activities were offered. I believe it will work for the yoga group, although I much prefer Sacha. Perhaps next time, if we plan it far in advance, we could do it at Sacha. But for now, it will work at Casa del Suizo. I also wanted to look at the possibilities for contributions to the community. Sid wants to provide for some sort of service to the local people, and I was worried that going through the owners of Casa del Suizo or the local representatives would interfere with the money going to the community. Eric and I discussed possibilities and he will talk to a colleague of his who has integrated her research with the Secoya in another part of Ecuador. She may have ideas about how to do this.

Eric became ill during lunch, so our departure was delayed. I wonder what he ate that I did not eat--we had both had the same meals in the same places and I was fine. I enjoyed a second piece of Tres Leches, my favourite dessert here in Ecuador. I have decided to eat no meat for Lent, and all the choices for lunch were meat, including pork, tongue and beef, so I justified my extra dessert, having eaten only salad, potato and banana.

Back to the road. We had heard form Andrés that the wonderfully well lit and paved road of our late night drive (the only decent road between Quito and Ahuano) just outside Casa del Suizo had been built by Lucio, one of the contenders for president in the election coming up in a few weeks. I understand he has run several times and has been president before, but is not expected to beat Correa, but that Correa has never won this particular area of Ecuador because Lucio, who comes from nearby Tena, has always done so much for the local area. Eric and I were sure that Benny had made the road to make Casa del Suizo more accessible. But it was Lucio trying to get votes that not only built the road, but added schools, basketball courts, volleyball fields and community centers. he had even promised an international airport nearby. We decided to check out Tena, because so many of the guides at Sacha came from Tena and we were curious about the town, but it looked like any other jungle town we had driven through, but bigger.

We passed through Archidona, where we had been confused the night before, thinking it was Tena, stopping for a meal and learning that we were not too far from our destination. We discovered a new resort, Las Bromelias, which looked quite nice and offered adventures and ecotours as well.

We continued on the road, paved in places and gravel in others, requiring detours in places and avoiding huge holes and bumps in others. The treacherous ascent was less daunting because it was familiar, and there were no workers today directing us. There were also fewer trucks and less traffic, and I felt less frightened. The jungle was beautiful and changed dramatically as we rose from 400 feet at Ahuano to 10,000 feet of altitude. The cloud forest is dense and wet and very romantic looking, with the mist and the clouds floating through. I tried to take pictures from the car, because Eric did not want to stop and get behind. I was snapping away as we careered around the corners, trying not to think that our lives were in danger.

We did stop once, at 'Mirador de la Virgen', where I took a small well tended path into the forest. Everything was wet and I was not sure if it is always that way or if it had just rained. I wanted so much to take the path further and explore, but Eric did not want to be driving in the dark again. We made good time to Papallacta, but did not stop there. Instead we ascended more into the clouds and once past the summit descended rapidly to Quito.

We are safe and sound at Erika's house, and well fed. Erika's mother Isabel served us a traditional Ecuadorian soup that is used to break the fast before Easter. Erika's father, her brother and his girlfriend and her sister and her boyfriend and Erika's boyfriend David were all at the table. We discussed schools and places to live in Ecuador, and Isabel suggested we bring Maya here before school starts for her so that she can learn some Spanish. It may be a good idea and may mean that we move here earlier than we had planned. We may also stay at Isabel's until we find a place to live in Quito, and that may also be a practical way to go about organizing ourselves here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Orellana's Route March 7 2009

I am finally at peace, sitting in my cabin on the Napo River, listening to the river rushing by, wondering if I can sleep tonight with the noise. Our journey to Casa del Suizo was long and arduous. We were told that it would take four or five hours for the 220 kilometers, and I guess I did not believe that it would take so long, and I mistakenly believed that the road was paved and easy to drive. When we arrived at the rental agency, I had Eric call Erika, who reassured us that it was not too difficult a drive, and Felipe, who did not dissuade us from our adventure, so I encouraged Eric to rent the car, and off we went. We made errors during our drive out of Quito and took extra time to get out of the city. I was excited because we took the road through Guapalo to get to Cumbaya, which is where Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro started on their journey, and followed their route to Pappallacta and on to the jungle. I kept imagining how difficult the trip was for the conquistadors in their full body armour and their horses and their supplies. Of course they took hundreds of Indians with them to carry their supplies and every one of the indigenous people perished and never returned home. The conquistadors were remarkable men, were willing to take risks, were dogged and determined and persevered in harsh and perilous conditions. The mountains were stunning. We started ascending through forests to above the tree line, through the paramo and the cloud forests. We passed Pappallacta and then started our descent, where conditions deteriorated. The road was under construction and we were limited to one half of the road for both directions. I was very frightened that we would drive off the side of the road and that would be it for us. When the road construction finally ended, the road became gravel and bumpy with huge holes and boulders to navigate around, and then it began raining heavily and the sky became dark and ominous.

We arrived in a town that we thought was Tena. When we stopped to find a washroom and a meal, we discovered that we had not yet reached Tena. The cook at the restaurant said he could not feed us, but later relented and cooked us a meal that tasted delicious because we had not eaten since breakfast. We contemplated stopping for the night, but were told that Tena was five minutes away and Ahuano only thirty minutes from there. We pressed on in the dark. For the last twenty seven miles or so, the road was paved and well lit and we became more hopeful. At the end of the road, we had to leave our car and take a canoe to the other side of the river where we were to be met by a vehicle, but no one came for longer than expected. Eric found that his cell phone worked, so we called Tara in New York City and my parents in Edmonton, and I felt so glad to hear their voices and know that at least for them, life was perfectly normal. We wondered if we would have to sleep at the side of the river and I felt so tired that I contemplated just lying down on the ground with the suitcase as a pillow and trying to sleep. Finally, a rather reluctant man in a pickup truck arrived to drive us the last ten minutes to Casa del Suizo. I feel lucky to be alive. I asked if there was a nearby airport so I do not have to take that road back to Quito, but then Andrés, who runs Casa del Suizo laughed at me and told me he makes the drive once a month and it takes him only three and a half hours.

When I calculated the time we took, I realized that we left the car rental agency around 3:30-3:45, took too long to leave the city and perhaps we got out of Quito by 4:30 and then drove to Archidona where we ate for an hour and arrived at Casa del Suizo at about 8:45, so it took us about four hours to get here. It was the conditions of the roads and my fear of crashing that made it feel so painful. I was concentrating so hard, even though I was not driving, that I had been expending far too much energy.

I look forward to seeing this place in the daylight, so I can be sure it will work for the yoga group. We sat with Andrés for the evening, talking and drinking and relaxing and settling down. Tomorrow we will check the place out and then get right back on the road back to Quito. Orellana took a boat down the Napo to the Amazon and out to sea… I think I would rather do that than drive back.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Good-bye Galapagos

Our days in the Galapagos were intense, so full of activity and almost too much exposure to new things. It feels shocking to be back in civilization again. We are in Guayaquil, another unexplored city for me. It is so very different from Quito. It has a much larger population and the city is more compact and has a European feel to it. Clearly tourists are not a usual sight here, and our walk through the 'Malecón' was an occasion for stares and awe. It was a surprise to see the Seminario Park in front of the neo-Gothic cathedral full of iguanas. They were wandering around, climbing up trees, arguing with squirrels, grouped in large numbers. They have been here for years, and are fed by the locals and don't leave he park. It was their habitat before the park was built and they chose to stand their ground and remain the main inhabitants of the park. It was a bizarre sight.

The Malecón was built in 2000, and runs along the river. At one end it has an anthropological museum, a garden with local flowers and trees and shrubs, followed by a children's section, many statues of former leaders from Guayaquil, a large sailing ship anchored on the river, many ice cream vendors and shoe-shine boys. There was a demonstration by the shoe shine boys and their supporters protesting the limitations imposed on the shoe shine boys. It was not very big and the police and security guards outnumbered the protesters. The Ecuadorians like to protest, I am told, and will take advantage of any demonstration. We did not see the outcome of the event.

Our walk down the Malecón was short. I would have liked to see more, but the tour leader wanted us back for a reception. I found myself so surprised with the city. It is not at all what I expected, which was perhaps a version of Quito, but its is instead modern, packed with people wearing western clothing rather than the local costume that is so often worn in the highlands. The faces are different, not at all Andean faces. I know that Guayaquil inhabitants call the Quieteños 'Serranos' and the Quiteños call the Guayaquil people 'monos' or monkeys or other worse names. The Serranos are also called 'potato worms' but I am not sure how that is said in Spanish.

Leaving Galapagos was difficult. I wanted to stay for another several days and see the islands on the other side. Four days is too short, and I feel once again that I have only gotten a taste of the islands and have to return for another visit and finish my exploration. Eric and I have decided that the best itinerary is on the Isabella2, which does an eleven day program and includes all the islands and all the different flora and fauna of the islands. When my sisters come to visit next year, I will plan to return and do a more complete version of the Galapagos.

We also said good-bye to all our travel companions today. I have enjoyed meeting each of them and learning about their lives. I wish the trip had been longer for them too, although the pace on the boat was exhausting and many are very tired and ready for a quieter time. Some are flying to Lima tomorrow and will visit Macchu Picchu and Cuzco--I wish I could go with them. I have wanted to go to Macchu Picchu for years and years, and there was a similar extension to the trip to the Peruvian Amazon two years ago which we also did not do.I am determined to hike the Inca trail with Maya and Tara next year and will begin to research the possibilities. I do not want to live so close to the place and not visit when we are in Quito.

Guayaquil is also a must-see. The people here are so very different form those in the highlands and the city looks and feels so different from Quito. It is not at all a Spanish colonial city. It has been burned to the ground and rebuilt in the 1800's using Italian architects and what they consider to be a French style. The cathedral is neogothic and many public buildings are neoclassic in style. The city is located on a wide river with hyacinths floating near the banks. The streets are full of families and children walking and exploring the Malecón.

When we live in Quito there will be many new places to explore.

One fellow on the boat was a defense attache for the American embassy and he scared us with stories about crime in Quito and how it is increasing significantly and that we must be very very careful. I am not sure what that means.... and how scared I ought to be. Eric is quite dismissive about such comments, but I am apprehensive.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Puerto Ayora

We sailed into the harbour at Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos. Its economic base is tourism, so that every person who lives in the town depends on the tourists in some way. I hope that means that all are intent on preserving their environment, because tourists will stop coming if the animals disappear. We visited Lonesome George at the Darwin Center today. He is the last of his kind and has resisted efforts to have him mate with female tortoises. He either cannot or won’t fertilize the females that are offered to him. He was found on the island of Pinzon, and it was puzzling that no females were found with him. Ships would come to the Galápagos Islands for years and collect thousands of turtles for food. The islands were full of turtles once. The Darwin Center was developed to preserve the tortoises, by finding the eggs and incubating them, hatching them and keeping the hatchlings alive until they are ready to be reintroduced to the wild. They have had some success in that there are islands that have healthy populations of tortoises.

We visited a farm in the highlands which had tortoises wandering about. They hear us and smell us and are frightened when we come too close to them. They make an odd hissing sound as they pull their heads into their shells. They truly look like ancient animals, like dinosaurs really. Tortoises live on land and turtles live in the sea; we saw a sea turtle swimming yesterday and last year when we were snorkeling near Isabela Island there were many sea turtles swimming about. It was quite the experience to see them swimming nearby, often two and three together. They are quite magnificent.

Our agenda today included a visit to a lava tunnel. We could not go far into the tunnel because the lights in the tunnel were out and it was too dark. There are several of these tunnels throughout the island, originating from ancient lava flows from the no longer active volcano on the island. There are also massive sink holes, and we visited two of them. They were much like the sink holes we saw in Belize, except that that the latter were steeper and deeper and led to an intricate cave system. In Belize, Tara and I rappelled down to the bottom of the sink hole, some three hundred feet or so, and then explored the caves, which had been used by the Mayans for ritual ceremonies.

The Galápagos Islands were never inhabited by indigenous people, so there is no evidence of ancient cultures or traditions.

We returned to the boat for the evening and had a dinner of Ecuadorian specialties, which somehow were not as interesting as I had remembered. We will be leaving the Santa Cruz in the morning and flying to Guayaquil. This will be my first visit to this city, and I have heard so much about it, both good and bad. It has improved much, and has an entirely different feel to Quito. Quiteños call people form Guayaquil ‘monos’ or monkeys, and those form Guayaquil call those form Quito ‘Serranos’ or potato worms. I am not sure why, but I will try to find out. There is certainly a rivalry between the two cities.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Boobies and Frigate Birds

Our wake-up call was at 7:00 AM, so I guess we slept in this morning. Our morning walk was on an island called 'Rabida', so I wondered if it originated because rabid animals lived on the island, but in fact it was the name of a convent or order of nuns in Spain. That still does not explain why the island was named Rabida, but I did not ask more of our guide. The soil was red, there were sea lions sprawled all over the shore, and our walk was mildly interesting. We saw a sea turle swimming offshore, so I was hoping we would see more during our snorkeling excurison. When we arrived at the island, a young Galapagos hawk was sitting on a rock waiting for us and posing. It did not move as panga after panga arrived. People were madly taking photographs and it continued to sit for us, its head moving around one way and then the other. I wondered if the guides had ordered him for us and placed him there for a photo op. Our walk was not particuarly eventful. I hardly remember if we saw anything. We snorkeled in the deep water and saw lots of colourful fish, an eel, a gorgeous puffer fish, but no sharks.

Our afternoon hike on North Seymour was the highlight. We saw many boobies courting each other with their distinctive dance, and watched great and magnificent frigate birds check each other out. The male frigates had their bright red pouches poofed out in the hopes of attracting females to mate with. The females were flying about, checking out the puffed up males. There were baby frigate birds in nests waiting to be fed and even more juvenile frigates. This was the best day of our trip so far. The boobies were the my favourite experience. Their feet are various shades of blue and turquoise. Apparently the colour of their feet attracts females and they dance to court each other. They were very busy flirting with each other and some were preparing nests for baby boobies. The boobies and the frigates were nesting amongst each other in a circumscribed area and were so numerous we had to be careful not to step on them. We ran into some land iguanas as well.

Waves were crashing on the shore and the sun was setting between Daphne Major and Daphne Minor as we headed for the pangas and back to the Santa Cruz. The guides were urging us along. The National Park has very strict rules about leaving the islands by sunset, which is about 6:15, and we were lingering and not wanting to leave. When we finally were ready to pile into the pangas, the sea was wild and throwing the little crafts about, making it difficult to get into the boats.

Our time has passed quickly. This has been an entirely unique experience for me. Eric has been frustrated because the itinerary is not his favourite. Unfortunately, Genovesa, which he feels is a must for all visitors, is not open to groups larger than 40, so the Santa Cruz cannot visit it. I am amazed that I am seeing so much that I have not seen. Evidently I have, in past years, been on a very different schedule and had seen other parts of the islands, so much so to make this a one of a kind experience. I am imagining all the places I will bring my family and friends to, and am putting together the plan. I am hoping to have lots and lots of visitors to our home in Quito and I am sure that many of them will want to visit the Galapagos. Eric has learned that the best trip is on the Isabella, which has has a maximum capacity of 40 people, and we will make sure we take the 11 day tour and include Genovesa, Fernandina and Isabella.

The pace of the shedule on the boat is exhausting. I can hardly stay awake, and nodded off during Eri'c lecture (which was very good in fact) and through dinner and now again I can hardly keepmy eyes open. Time for bed!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Enjoying the Islands

The Santa Cruz is a well organized boat. There is a schedule which we follow to the minute. We are woken up at 6:00 AM and roll out of bed. We eat breakfast and then are ready for our first excursion to Bartolome Island, where we take a climb up about 400 steps to the top of a pile of lava rock to look over the gorgeous view of almost all the Galapagos Islands. There is limited vegetation on the island and subsequently few animals. We pass by a hill of sand where our guide tells us that 'Master and Commander' was filmed. The crew was there for ten days and only a minute and a half showed up in the film. The guides were trying to advise the director that there were no cormorants on the island and that cormorants did not fly, but the only scene that survived the cutting floor was using a flying cormorant. I will rent the movie when I come home and check it out.

Snorkeling was next on the agenda. I was on my own because Eric stayed on the boat to work on a paper. I was out only a few moments when a huge six foot shark floated past. I was so frightened! I got away from him as quickly as I could and attached myself to the nearest snorkeler. Shark attacks are rare in the Galapagos. However a tourist was attacked in January when we were here with the students. I don't think I was supposed to tell anyone about that.

We had a second snorkeling excursion in the afternoon. I have no idea which fish I saw. They were colourful and plentiful and there were no more sharks around. In the past I have swum with penguins and sea lions and rays and huge sea turtles, but each island has a very specific population of animals, and although we did see a Galapagos penguin on a rock, they were not swimming with us. Each time I have visited the Galapagos I have been to a different set of islands and each experience has been unique. Thus far nothing has been familiar on this trip. Eric has been to the islands so often and has seen everything several times, so it is not as new and adventuresome for him. I look forward to bringing my family and friends here when they visit during our year in Quito.

Another walk on the island of Santiago at the end of the day brought us our fill of marine iguanas and fur seals, along with several species of birds. I took countless pictures. I especially enjoyed watching the pelicans dive in to the sea for fish. I was always too late to get a good photo!

I feel incredibly lucky to be here. The Galapagos are a special place.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Return to the Galapagos

We are anchored near Santiago Island in the Galapagos. I am not sure if I am seasick or not. I feel queasy and dizzy and am not sure dinner was a good idea. I am reminded that each time I take this trip I find myself unsettled. I don't actually get ill, I am simply aware that when we finally get to terra firma after three or four days, I feel relieved.

This is my fourth trip to the Galapagos, and each visit is an entirely new experience. We walked on the northern tip of Santa Cruz island, and saw marine iguanas, sea lions, flamingos and huge ugly orange coloured land iguanas. I forgot my long lens on the boat, which is unusual for me, and I subsequently saw the sights through a very different lens than I am accustomed to.

I am confused by my reaction to the islands. They are stark and severe and ragged and their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is remarkable that the animals have so little fear of humans and stay in place for photographs. It is like a zoo without barriers. I look for evidence of evolution but it takes imagination to see what Darwin saw and understand how he came to his conclusions.

We will be snorkeling tomorrow morning and again in the afternoon. I enjoy the snorkeling but I am always a little frightened too. We snorkel in the deep water with no shore to aim for, there are seals and penguins and sea lions charging past us, sometimes huge sea turtles and sharks which we stay away from. The waves are often huge and I try not to stray too far from the pangas. Last year I was impressed with my daughter Maya who was eight years old at the time and insisted on joining us for the snorkeling. She stayed close to the students and to Eric, but at one point she got cold and began to shake uncontrollably. She seemed excited and overwhelmed and scared and thrilled all at the same time. I can relate to that feeling.

I am worried about our visit to the Galapagos. I read so much about the damage that the tourists inflict on the animals and the islands. Yet the tourist industry is also what makes it possible to preserve the islands. I feel more than usually conscious of the negative impact of human beings on the earth, yet humans are part of this earth of ours too. I understand that at the rate we are going we will destroy everything in a few thousand years, and that it is too late to do much about such a disaster. There are so many places in the world that ought to be preserved, not just the Galapagos. Being here somehow brings all this to consciousness, and I am anxious and fearful.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Volcanoes and Earthquakes

I like the drive from Quito to Otavalo through the valley of the volcanoes. Gua Gua Pichincha (gua gua in Quichua means baby) is the volcano above Quito, Cayambe is snow-covered and to the right as we drive north, and Reventador is not far from Cayambe. Near Otavalo, Imbabura and Cotocachi are husband and wife in legend. There are more volcanoes to the south, one of which, Tungarahua, is currently active. Spectacular Cotopaxi is south of Quito and looks like Mount Fuji. Some of the volcanoes are dormant while others continue to erupt. There are wonderful stories about the volcanoes; Gua Gua Pichincha's parents are Cotopaxi and Tungarahua, and when Gua Gua cries, it upsets her Mother and Father and they may get angry! Imbabura and Cotocachi were together as a couple and then had a falling out, resulting in Cotocachi getting angry. The volcanoes are spirits and impact the humans around them. The indigenous people have always worshipped the volcanoes and prayed to them.  They are truly magnificent and add much to the landscape of Ecuador. Of course the active ones are dangerous and have erupted regularly. I am moderately worried. My impression is that Quito and Ecuador are not well prepared for disaster. I cannot imagine how the city will cope if there is a serious eruption. Where will the population go? How will they get out of danger? Our guide mentioned today that all three roads between Quito and Guayaquil were blocked by landslides, so the only way out of Quito is by air or east to the jungle. When we live in Quito next year I wonder how we will respond to a natural disaster. 

Of course, the city is also in danger from earthquakes all the time. I have been assured that the taller buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but most of Quito is spread out over hills and valleys and much of the construction does not meet standards. I imagine the population would be in a panic if  faced with a serious earthquake. I would be in a panic as well! 

We stopped at the Mitad del Mundo and put one foot of each side of the equator. I have no idea why, but I tried several yoga moves on the equator line, which Eric photographed. I thought they could work for the 'Yoga in the Jungle' pamphlet, but I am in no way a good example for yoga position. This is the modest version of equator monument. Not far from where we stopped is an orange structure with a bizarre explanation of the science of the center of the earth. On the parallel stretch of the Panamerican highway to the west, there is a much larger monument associated with an ethnographic museum of Ecuador, which is entertaining to visit. The problem with that monument is that it was established by French scientists in the 1700's, who were entirely in error. More recently the 'true' center of the earth, using more accurate measurements and GPS, was established as being 150 metres away and another museum and monument has been erected at the 'true" equator. So one can visit the equator at several different spots, and experience it quite differently.

The market at Otavalo has been in existence for over 500 years. The Otavalenos are weavers and artisans and have a talent for business. The market is quiet on Sunday, actually although everyone bargains, the locals are quiet and unassuming. They expect to bargain, and will not sell anything for a loss, but good deals are possible. I have been to the market many times, and all the goods have become familiar. They remain lovely, but I am less eager to buy everything I see. Of course, knowing that we will be living here in a few months plays a role in my reticence. I enjoy the market for the locals. Eric wanted to buy roses, so we wandered a few blocks away from the 'Plaza de Ponchos'. We found 25 roses for $3.00, and they were lovely. I wanted to take photos of the local people, but they object when I do, and I did not have the energy to be sneaky about it, so I do not have many good pictures today.