Monday, August 31, 2009

Final Decision

Despite consistent polling suggesting we move to Republica de el Salvador, we chose the Cordero and Tamayo penthouse, perhaps because of the view, perhaps because of the craziness of the place, its size, the adventure it suggests. We will meet the owners tomorrow to walk through the apartment requesting repairs and asking them to remove most of the furniture. And then we go shopping. Isabel insists she will take me to 'SuCasa' at El Jardin to buy sheets and towels. We will need to equip the kitchen, and we will buy plants, lots of them, to cover up piles of dirt in several places in the apartment. I will have to pay more attention to our plants; in Baltimore I overwater and subsequently kill all my plants, in Quito everything seems to grow well.

I am relieved that we have made a decision and that we are moving forward. I expected to feel excited, but this apartment search has gone on too long and I am simply glad it is over. I am feeling overwhelmed in anticipation of all that has to be done with the move. We have made the difficult choice this time (again!), but I am eager to get moving and make our new home.

It was uniform buying day today. Maya was not thrilled with the sweat pants I insisted that she buy. She refused to buy the skirt (you know I do not wear those things) and resolved that she will wear jeans everyday (that is part of the uniform).

Maya and I went to see another apartment near Catolica, just as a comparison effort. It was the third floor of a house, about the same price as the penthouse, but did not make the grade. We walked down past the new apartment and took the Ecovia in the wrong direction before we jumped off and reversed course and found Ziro, the uniform store on Seis di Diciembre. I told the clerk to tell me what I was supposed to buy for Einstein, and she had no idea. Maya was quite dismissive of everything she tried on, all of which was huge, but I was hesitant to buy size 8, so I insisted that we would wash everything and shrink it. When I was about to pay with my Visa, I was told that if I paid cash I would save nine dollars, so I actually went back to Isabel's house to get the cash!!!

I was to meet another real estate person named Patricia at 3 PM on the corner of Moscu and Republica de el Salvador. I had looked at the ads in El Comercio this morning and it appeared that she was showing most of those on the first page (there were 420 ads for the 'Norte' section of town). I wanted to see other 2 bedroom apartments in the area to compare to the one we decided was a contender. She did not show up for Maya and I, so we stopped for treats at 'Cyrano's and went home. Once we arrived, Erika told me Patricia had called and was late for our appointment and wanted me to go back and meet her in a half hour. I rushed upstairs, got my cash for Ziro's, taxied to the uniform store, waited for all my forms to be rewritten, the items to be checked off, and to pay and wait for the five cents that was missing, and got out of the store at 4:27. The streets were packed with cars which did not appear to be moving, so I took the Ecovia and walked to the meeting point. Eric was there, but Patricia was not. We almost left and there she arrived careering around the corner in her daughter's beat up car. She explained that she had crashed her car and borrowed her daughter's until hers was repaired. We figured out very quickly what her car problem was, as she sped through the city, almost crashing into children on bikes and pedestrians and other vehicles, talking nonstop on her cell phone and in between phone calls revealing more about her personal life than was comfortable. Eric was not at ease with her at all. She did show us one place in the area we wanted, but then took us to 'Las Bromelias', a gated community too far from the main part of the city, as well as El Batan, close to the 'Metropolitan Park', but neither were suitable. I had simply wanted to comparison shop before we made the move, but nothing quite made the grade today.

Eric tried to contact the apartment owners several times, and was finally successful, so I do believe we are moving into our own place in a few days. Whew!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Slow Days

I will miss this house. Seeing Cotopaxi peeking out some mornings and again later in the day is priceless, and with the Panecillo and the Basilica in the distance, Pichincha on one side and gentler hills to the other, each time I walk across the rooftop to descend to the main floor of the house, I am amazed, delighted, entranced, recharged. Perhaps what I will miss the most however, is the warmth and generosity of Isabel and Erika. We are so well taken care of, all our needs and wishes are attended to, sometimes it is difficult to accept so many gifts and not to be able to reciprocate.

Anticipating that we will be gone in a few days, and wanting to express our thanks however inadequately, we took the opportunity to take the whole family out to lunch today. Isabel and Erika, along with Isabel's ex-husband Mario, her son Junior (Mario), her other daughter Stephanie who spent the summer working at an amusement park in Sandunsky, Ohio and returned late Thursday night ( and will be off studying in Oregon next in September for a year), and Mateo, Isabel's grandson, all joined us at 'Metro Cafe' on the other side of Carolina Park. This is a part of the city I have never explored, but during the ride I saw another big mall (El Jardin) and more restaurants and cafes. I did not realize that I had been in the area before, having eaten this past January at 'Crepes and Waffles' nearby. Metro Cafe looked trendy and advertised that it is one of the few places where you can eat 24 hours a day. That is unusual in Quito. Most of the city closes down at 6 or 7 and driving through the streets past a certain hour is a bit spooky with all businesses shut down and gates closed and most of the inhabitants safely in their homes.

We had a very lazy Sunday. all of us slept in, and when we woke up, Maya and I called family and friends and stayed in our pyjamas 'til late. All of Isabel's family trickled in through the morning, and we congregated in the kitchen and everybody helped get breakfast together. I am not sure how it was suddenly time for lunch and then it was past 5. I had written out my apartment pros and cons and reviewed them with Isabel (del Salvador won), my parents (same), Erika (same), Mario (same), and then Eric and I took a walk at dusk in the area around Erika's house and decided on the Cordero place. The plan is to call the owners and see if we can negotiate some details and if we cannot agree, we will move into del Salvador. Decision made.

Despite being told not to walk after dark and that the area of JipiJapa is not a safe place, it was very pleasant to walk down Isla Seymour to Rio Coca, to Avenue di Shyris and then right over to Rio Amazonas and back up Isla San Cristobal and home. There were few people on the streets, but some were congregated around a Panaderia, where Eric bought a drink and I tried 'aplanchada', a pastry I see people selling on the streets all the time. I had wondered if it was safe to buy on the street, and was curious; it was a thin sheet of meringue over an inch thick layered pastry. It was sweet and simple and tasty. I liked that couples and families were about. We passed the Plaza de Toros. I am definitely interested in seeing a bullfight one day, although I feel a little guilty feeling that way because I know it is a cruel and bloody event and that Erika entirely disapproves and is involved in a group that protests the practice. Some bullfights in Ecuador do not kill the bull, and involve many foolish locals who run into the ring and try to outsmart the bull, but at least the bull has a sporting chance and is sent back to the farm when he is done. There are also the traditional Spanish bullfights, and both Eric and I plan to go!

I am feeling relieved that we have made a decision, and I thought of all the real estate I had seen these past three weeks. My true fantasy here is to buy a traditional Spanish style house, clean it up and refresh or renovate it, and live behind the high walls with a garden. Eric and I passed a few that would have worked if we were planning to stay in Ecuador (Eric's dream) or spend a significant time here. But for now, an apartment with a view will do. That was at the top of my list of requirements.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pros and Cons

Eric and I have decided that we MUST make the apartment decision by Monday. The two final 'contestants' have about an equal number of pros and cons, so at this point I have no idea where we will end up. The Cordero and Tamayo penthouse is huge, has three bedrooms, has incredible views, has a fireplace, a great concierge, and is close to the Mariscal, La Floresta, the Supermaxi and a fruit and vegetable market, OchoyMedio, and restaurants and clubs. It is located in a less than safe area, is far from Maya's school, is a little less expensive, but is not fully equipped and we will be spending more money to furnish it with kitchen ware and some furniture and perhaps new mattresses. The new apartment we looked at today in the Republica del Salvador area, is only two bedrooms, but spread out through three floors and feels bigger. It is fully furnished and equipped with kitchen equipment, is closer to Maya's school by at least twenty minutes in the morning rush, is close to shops, gyms, restaurants, flower booths, bakeries, the Supercines the Megamaxi, and the huge Carolina Park. It is safer and more secure, has bathtubs and a jacuzzi whereas Cordero only has showers, and is warmer because of all the sun pouring in. It is a penthouse on three levels with a little bit of a view, but is much smaller than the Cordero place. The bathrooms are grungy, but so is the Cordero apartment. The smaller apartment is in an area that reminds me more of a European city, with everything available in walking distance. On the other hand, walking out after 6 PM is not entirely safe, and there are pickpockets everywhere at all times. The owner of the Republica del Salvador appears eager to rent to us, the Cordero owners do not seem much interested in us.

I look at my lists and it appears that the end result is that the two places even out with pros and cons and I simply have to decide where I want to be. Cordero is more of an adventure, Republica del Salvador is more of a familiar experience. We can move in the latter and just start living, the Cordero place requires much more time and effort to make it work for us.

Eric and I spent the day wandering through the city. We visited the Republica del Salvador area in the morning, and went back to the house to get Maya so she could see the apartment too. Maya chose roses and a cake for Isabel at 'Cyrano's', and then insisted that she return to the house so she could visit Isabel's dog with the family. Maya had no interest in looking at more apartments. I wanted to see more, but instead Eric and I wandered through the city trying to make a decision about where we wanted to live. We took the Ecovia to the Cordero apartment, and walked around the area to see if there were more places to rent and to check out the feel of the neighbourhood. We then detoured to the Rio Amazonas to ask about our phones at the 'Porta' store. I am not sure I understand why, but they are not yet ready after four days. I have not had a cellphone for over three weeks, and I am doing fine without one, but it is time to make myself more available. I remembered having had good coffee at a place down the street on Amazonas years ago, so we stopped at the coffee shop, but the coffee was just the usual Ecuadorian coffee I get everywhere else. I had a humita for lunch, I am trying to eat 'Ecuadorian' as much as possible.

We walked past the Hilton Colon to the Ejido Park to visit the Saturday art market, in anticipation of decorating our new place, and then to the outdoor artisan market near the Casa de la Cultura. We passed the most incredible museum here in Quito, the Museo del Banco Central, which I have yet to visit this trip, but is high on my list of priorities when I no longer am apartment hunting. There are more artisan markets on the way to the Mariscal, and then lots of restaurants and my favourite bookstore (Eric slept while I read books), and a spray painting event on the side of a building. I insisted that we walk back to Cordero and look at the area some more, and wanted to return to Republica del Salvador for more apartment hunting, but suddenly it was late and taking the Ecovia back to Jipijapa we missed our stop and ended up at the final terminal station, which was fine because the walk home was all downhill.

Maya had not missed us at all, and had enjoyed her day 'chilling', but had read her Harry Potter book five times and was tired of it. She was relieved that we bought her the next installment. I am not sure how to keep up with her voracious appetite for books. We must find a library here, or I must enter the ebook universe.

Maya was not thrilled to join us in the Centro Historico to watch the 'Ruta de las Iglesias', a 10K run through the old city. We had met Drew at Yanayacu last weekend and he was running in the race, so we wanted to cheer him on. We did not see him amongst the 4500 participants, but had fun scrambling around looking for places to watch the runners come by. All the churches were alit and there were brides getting married all over the centro.

Eric and I have walked more than 10K today, up and down hills, getting our exercise, talking about our choices, going back and forth with pros and cons, and we cannot get to the end of this discussion. Why is the decision so difficult? Part of it may be that I had imagined an entirely different sort of experience here. I had expected to live far more luxuriously than is possible. I had not expected to have to give up so much. I know I can manage with whatever the decision is, and I will make the best of wherever we live and whatever our circumstances are, but when I went out with Paquita the first week I was here, I was looking at another lifestyle and I imagined myself living that way. Eric believes that the struggle is deeper, that the move to Quito challenges me and puts me out of my comfort zone and creates uncertainty and fear and paralysis.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Libri Mundi

Quito is shrinking, or at least is more and more familiar and does not feel too big or overwhelming anymore. I am very comfortable with the Trole and the Ecovia, and find myself unconcerned with the mass of humanity on the buses. It is sometimes odd to feel people pressing so hard and so close, but I am lucky to be a head taller than most and breathing is always easy. When there are too many people, Maya gets a little panicky, so we choose to wait for the next bus.

It was the last day of swimming class. Despite her limitations in Spanish, Maya seems to have understood what was required of her. Her teacher seemed unenthusiastic most of the time, but perked up when he heard that she was from Baltimore and piped up with 'Michael Phelps!!!!'. I did not bother to explain that Maya learned to swim at Meadowbrook, the same pool where Phelps used to train. I have been taking advantage of the hour of swim class to finish 'Ivanhoe' and start with a novel I picked up at the bookstore at Quicentro. It happens to be a fictional account of a democratic election in Cuba in 2000 and the odd reappearance of Che Guevara, or someone who sounds like him thirty years after his murder. So far it has been entertaining. Maya and I had some time today in my favourite bookstore 'Libri Mundi', located in the Mariscal, which has a small English language section. While Maya started the sixth Harry Potter novel upstairs in the children's section, I found a compilation of short stories by Ecuadorian writers, and another about the Amazon which caught my attention. I know I should not be buying anything, let alone books, so I put the books back, to be continued at our next visit.

Maya was not interested in doing anything today but read her book, so I promised her she could read all day anywhere anytime. She read on the Ecovia, in the street both while sitting and when walking, while waiting to see apartments, during her meal. It was not quite what she wanted to do, she really just wanted to stay at home and read, but this was the compromise. Going to Libri Mundi was a bonus.

Maya and I also spent time in a lovely store full of Ecuadorian handicrafts. I remember finding the shop in the Mariscal the first time I came to Quito, and was delighted to encounter it again. Maya has decided to decorate her room with an Ecuadorian theme, which is an improvement over the Versailles theme she had been insisting on until today. Everything was too costly, so we will have to visit the market in Otavalo to find the same items for much better prices.

Today was another unsuccessful apartment searching day. We walked around the Republica del Salvador area, looking for 'arriendo' signs in windows. We have an appointment tomorrow to see another penthouse on a quiet street called Luxembourg. We had an appointment with a real estate agent today, but she called and canceled in the morning. Eric understood that her father was ill and in the hospital, but when we called later to ask about another place we wanted to see, we learned that her father had died early that morning, and felt badly about interfering with her day. This area is full of shops and restaurants and seems more and more an ideal place to live, halfway between Maya's school and Catolica, and close to the Carolina park and all sorts of amenities. We are all tired of the apartment hunt, and have committed to making a final decision by the end of the month (three days!). Once we move into our apartment, we can start organizing our lives here. I find it surprising that I have been in Quito for over three weeks. Either it feels that we have been here for much longer than that or the time has sped by very quickly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The apartment hunt has started anew. We focused our attention on the area around a street called Republica del Salvador. This is where we have looked before. Erika suggested the area because items far closer to Maya's school than La Floresta or Gonzales Suarez, almost midway between Catolica and Einstein. Maya and I met Eric at the Supercines, a huge movie theatre complex across the street from the Megamaxi and just down Seis di Diciembre from the Quicentro shopping centre and the 'Atahualpa' soccer (futbol) stadium. Eric and I had seen a movie at the Supercines a few nights ago (The Time Traveler's Wife, or in Spanish 'Te Amare Por Simepre", much more romantic in Spanish), and living near a movie theatre would be a plus. Maya and I took the Ecovia from JipiJapa to the Supercines, and had a twenty minute wait on the street. We were entertained by the arrival of a SWAT team in their fatigues and their machine guns held at their shoulders. A tank like vehicle was stationed on the street with another soldier training his gun around and around in all directions. When Eric arrived, he was very blase about it, suggested it was perhaps a FARC capture, that there had been a recent arrest of two FARC terrorists in Quito, that this may be another. They entered the 'Metropolis' store, which was adjacent to the cinemas and sold DVDs and CDs and electronics. We never stayed to watch the shootout, thinking it was wise to be out of the way.

There are signs in the windows of several apartments with 'Arriendo' signs, so we called one and visited an apartment right on Seis di Diciembre which was not quite right other than the price ($450). A cute little house hidden behind the big apartment buildings was charming but not quite what I wanted either. I am now determined to have some sort of view of the mountains around me. I cannot give that up yet. We wandered down to Republica del Salvador where we found restaurants galore, and after lunch at an Italian place (with interesting tasting gelato, better than the one we tried a few days ago in Cumbaya that tasted like cheese, but still not the gelato I am used to), met 'Mariela' at Cyrano's, a wonderful looking bakery. Eric had called the number posted on what turned out to be the window of her apartment. She showed us some possibilities and plans to meet us again tomorrow. The best part of today was simply walking around the area, close to Carolina park (and the infamous Avenida de Shyris where I was pickpocketed at the parade), and full of shops and gyms and cafes and restaurants and people. Living in this area would offer us security (there are security guards 24 hours a day at the apartments), activity, proximity to everything we may need including transportation, and the apartments we saw were affordable. Of course nothing had quite the view of the penthouse that Eric and Maya still want to persist with negotiating about, but when we mentioned the location to Mariela, she quickly established that the location was not safe for Maya or me. Of course, while La Carolina is safe during the day, she advised that we do not leave our apartment with cellphones or money, or we will be robbed in the park. Walking around with computers is foolish. She pointed out a young boy who was begging on the street and suggested that he would be one who would take a cell phone from us. I keep checking my purse to see that I have both my iphone (which does not work as a phone here but occasionally I can use wireless and check my email) and my replacement camera (Eric brought one when he arrived but I am waiting for another Nikon Coolpix) and my money. I will get a local phone tomorrow.

Maya and I watched the new Harry Potter movie in Spanish at the Supercines. I was delighted to have understood most of it. Maya kept asking me what everyone was saying; I am sure than in a couple of months I will be asking her what everything means. Maya does not believe me yet; she is still feeling overwhelmed by living in a non English environment.

I am eager to make the next move. Staying with Isabel and Erika is very comfortable, but we remain guests in their home and they are far too generous and good to us, and it feels as if we have overstayed our welcome. I am not sure what I expect to find. I want our place to be special, wonderful, stunning, memorable. I am not yet able to accept 'ordinary', but that may be all we can afford.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Beginnings

Today was an important day for Maya. Yesterday, Eric had received a phonecall from her teacher, who was interested in meeting her. We had planned a visit to the school anyway, to sign papers, pay our bill, talk to the doctor and sign up for her eating plan. Buying her uniform was also on the agenda, but we ran out of time, so that is a task for another day.

I was up most of the night going through the pros and cons of the apartment, and decided early in the morning that we would take the one that Eric and Maya are so keen on. Part of the decision was motivated by the school, Colegio Alberto Einstein, urging us to provide them with an address so they can set up their transportation plan. Not having an address is very inconvenient for them. So I told Eric on his way to Catolica this morning to call the landlord and communicate our wish to move in as soon as it is cleaned up. I was surprised to hear from Eric that the landlord did not want to rent it for only ten months!!! They were quite adamant. It made no sense to me, although perhaps the reasoning is that it takes some time and effort to arrange for the clean up and that they would have to prepare it for the next renters in only ten months. However, it had been empty for five months, and presumably having it occupied is advantageous economically. I am told this is simply 'Ecuadorian', by more than one native friend. Of course, both Eric and Maya were horribly disappointed; they both had their hearts set on this particular apartment. I agree that it is the best deal we have encountered.

So it is back to looking for a place to live. But for today, we visited Einstein and were able to accomplish much. Unfortunately many of the necessary papers were missing from Maya's file although Eric had fedexed them in June, and had received an email from an administrator at the school that the papers had arrived. Eric went online to find the tracking number and the person who signed for the package, and was able to prove that the papers were sent and received, but they were not to be found! I am reassured that all will be found, this is 'simply Ecuadorian'.

We visited the school doctor, who asked countless questions (in Spanish) in her effort to take a complete medical history. Maya will be medically insured by the school 24 hours a day, both when at school and when not at school. We met Maya's homeroom teacher, who is a young woman from New Hampshire. She was at Catolica for a student exchange experience six years ago, fell in love with Ecuador and has not left (not an uncommon story). She was warm and welcoming and gave us a tour of the classroom and the schoolyard and the library, and introduced us to her other teachers. Maya will spend two hours a day with her homeroom teacher for English instruction, and the rest of the day with her Spanish speaking teacher. Maya seemed shy and quiet during the visit and remained worried all day. Her first questions for me this morning were about school and whether she will be liked by the other children. I reassured her, but I am not sure I convinced her.

I have always made Maya's lunch and have rarely agreed to have Maya buy lunch daily. But most of the children eat the lunch provided by the school, so in an effort to help her feel less different, she will be eating what her classmates are eating. However she may not like the food anyway ( she has not always appreciated the local fare).

I felt the visit was very encouraging, but Maya was out of sorts all day. She had her nose buried in Harry Potter at every opportunity, and when not reading appeared to be near tears. There was no time to buy uniforms after our visit to the school. We rushed to Maya's ballet class where she performed for parents and other potential dancers. It was wonderful to watch her move; it is amazing to see what her body can do! Maya is quite determined to continue with her Cuban teacher, and has been asked to dance daily in the 'advanced pre professional program', so I am trying to figure out how to make this happen for Maya when she starts regular school at Einstein.

Maya remains nervous about starting in a new school and not speaking Spanish ( although everyone reassures her that she will be speaking in no time). School begins on September 7 and continues to mid or late June. With ballet ending today and her swimming classes over on Friday, I hope we find and decide on an apartment as soon as possible so we can take a little trip before school begins, to Banos or Mindo or Otavalo or any of the other wonderful places nearby.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Mariscal

Whew! It is cold and getting colder. I woke up with the wind howling, but by the time I peeked out from under the covers (three layers of wool blankets), the sun was shining and it was much warmer than I expected. By midday the sun was shining intensely and I discovered that I had dressed too warmly and took off every layer I could. I have been warned that winter is still coming, and that in September the rains will start, that it will be even colder for another six months. Am I not in the southern hemisphere, I ask? I guess it is only by a few degrees. The equator is just a little north of Quito, so we are not quite like Australia, where summer and winter are reversed. Eric loves the 'springlike', or rather 'fall-like' weather all year long, with cold nights and warm days and very variable conditions throughout the day. There is a wet and dry season both in the Andes and the jungle, but they are reversed. I did not bring warm enough clothing, and will have to venture out clothes shopping before the next season (next week!).

The homes do not have heat or air conditioning. I doubt that the AC is ever necessary (you just open windows), but the nights require sweaters and warm blankets. We will be driving up to Otavalo to visit the Indian market to accumulate warm coverings of all sorts , although there is a market at Sangolqui (closer than Otavalo) on Thursdays, which although smaller, has most of the same goods at better prices. Eric has proposed that we drive to a town up north called San Antonio de Ibarra to buy furniture for our apartment. Anything imported is ridiculously expensive, so buying Ecuadorian will work better for us. There are huge tariffs/taxes on all goods that are not manufactured or produced in Ecuador. This is in an effort by the government to prevent dollars from leaving the country. I noticed this yesterday when window shopping at Quicentro; the prices for televisions and L'Occitane soaps and cremes were at least double compared to what I am used to (I happened to check prices in the Sony and the L'Occitane store).

I have lost my enthusiasm for looking at apartments. Eric is set on the somewhat sketchy one near Hospital Baca Ortiz, and Maya will not consider any other, but I keep hoping that something better will magically show up. Of course, by not exerting any effort to make anything happen, I may have to give the okay to Eric and Maya. Eric is also worried that by hesitating we will lose it, and that nothing better will present itself. I keep insisting that we check out the area around it again and again. Today we met nearby, at the Sacha Lodge office. I wanted to visit the 'Casa Aliso', a hotel in La Floresta, which is associated with Sacha. It is only a few blocks from our potential apartment, and is a lovely converted house with only ten rooms, intimate, beautifully decorated, and perfect for any visitors we may have who want to stay nearby. We walked to the Mariscal, where we ate traditional Ecuadorian food. I ate a 'humita', which is corn meal wrapped around cheese and baked in corn leaves, Eric had 'llapingachos al estile de Ambato', which are potato cakes with chorizo sausage and a fried egg. Maya had barbequed ribs, which although not unfamiliar to her, appeared to be a local specialty as well. Maya is remarkable in her ability to clean off chicken bones and ribs, so that there is not a bit of meat left on the bones.

Eric expressed a wish to live in the Mariscal, but we have been repeatedly discouraged from being even further away from her school, and the area is potentially more dangerous than others, but of course it is only a few blocks from the apartment Eric is proposing to rent anyway. The Mariscal is full of restaurants and bars and hostels and hotels and travel agencies and language schools. It attracts tourists and expats and with them come the pickpockets and those who wish to take advantage of foreigners. The area is also fun and full of great energy, and I can imagine that I will want to visit regularly. My favourite bookstore, Libri Mundi, happens to be in the Mariscal. It is full of great picture books of Ecuador, and also stocks a good selection of English books. I bought 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' for Maya, and she has had her nose in the novel ever since.

I remain stunned each morning when I see Cotopaxi peeking through the clouds. I check for it morning and night, and it is not always visible, but when it is, I feel particularly lucky. It is as beautiful as Mount Fuji, and I keep wanting to photograph it everyday. It is not visible from our (potentially) new apartment, so I am appreciating it daily while I can.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Home Again?

It is strange to be back with Isabel and Erika after a weekend of being around gringos. It took a while to get back to speaking Spanish again. Everyone at Yanayacu was English speaking and either American or European. I realize how lucky we have been to have had a very genuine and authentic Ecuadorian experience since we arrived in Quito. We have been immersed in a Spanish speaking environment, we have eaten almost exclusively Ecuadorian food, Maya's camp and swimming and ballet lessons have all been full of local people. It certainly feels like we have returned home to Isabel and Erika, who have welcomed us, fed us, opened their home and their lives to us.

While at Yanayacu, everyone had a story about robberies, pickpockets, murders, assaults. Everyone in the group had had either a personal encounter with crime during their time in Ecuador, or knew someone who had. It was sobering and shocking and set off all sorts of fears for me. I am not sure I have ever felt so worried about my personal safety or that of Maya's. I have to remind myself that Baltimore has one of the highest murder rates in the country and probably in the Western world, and that Quito's numbers are nowhere near those of most American cities of the same size. That said, I worry more and am not sure what will reassure me. Isabel and Erika are warning me regularly, and limit their movements because of their own concerns. The Ecuadorians too have their own stories to add.

We fell back into our usual regime. Eric's alarm woke us up far too early, but he was out of the house and at Catolica working by 8. Maya listened to Taylor Swift songs on Youtube. I remember getting interested in songs on the radio at about the same age, but there were no computers or Youtube at the time. She listened over and over until she knew the words and could sing the songs to me throughout the day. After swimming class, we took the Ecovia to meet Eric at the apartment across from the Hospital Baca Ortiz, which is the children's hospital. I am feeling more and more comfortable taking the bus, and Maya watches my bag carefully. When we get off the bus, we have to walk past the front of the hospital. There are many families milling about and an ambulance unloading its passengers. We walk up the hill to revisit the apartment, and I try to figure out if I can imagine myself living in the space. I decide that I like the fireplace best.

But then I look out at the incredible view, which is truly the best part of the apartment, except that this time I notice that there is construction going up down the street. How is it that I did not see it before? Or did it just come up, which is possible here in Quito where they are building like crazy. Eric points out that if I don't look down, I will not see the construction site.

We then take a walk around the area. We are two blocks from the Swisshotel and the Radisson, and the 'Supermaxi' is close by, along with many restaurants. Eric likes that he can walk to Catolica and the Mariscal and that my favourite cinema (Ochoymedia) is also in walking distance. He points out spas along the way (there is no bathtub in the apartment so I will have to find a way to have a bath occasionally). We eat at Pim's, where the food takes so long to arrive, we gobble it up and Maya and I race to ballet class in a taxi.

I get back on the Ecovia to check out the Megamaxi, a huge warehouse like store with all sorts of goods, much like Target in the US, but focussed on food. Maya and I meet Eric at the 'Supercines' after ballet, and walk to 'Quicentro', a mall near the Carolina Park. We look for books in English (Maya has had three books to read these three weeks, and has read the same ones over and over), and the only appropriate one for Maya is about Ecuadorian ghost stories, which are fine to read in the daytime, but not quite appropriate for nighttime reading, but she devours the book anyway.

Without realizing it, I am adjusting to our lives here, engaging in ordinary daily activities and pursuits and taking the local transportation, eating the native cuisine, interacting with my neighbours and being just fine with everything. This life is so different than how I usually live, yet it suits me, and does not feel too awkward, I just have to tamp down my fears, be braver, bolder, stronger.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Yanayacu was entirely conceived and created by Harold. He had this vision and the perseverance and focus to maintain sight of his goal. He has been successful, both as a scientist (he has published many papers), as a teacher and organizer (he has many students come for weeks to months at a time to pursue scientific projects), as a PR man (he has a great reputation and has volunteers with Earthwatch and other organizations participate in his vision). He has recently finished his PhD, and has plans to expand and collaborate with other scientists throughout Ecuador and in other countries. Eric would like to study the wrens that live in the bamboo forests, and spent much time discussing possibilities with Harold.

The research station was built section by section, is very basic and simple but serviceable. Eric, Maya and I stayed together in a room with a bunkbed and a single bed. We had wonderful thick Otavaleno blankets, which I doubled so that we each had four layers. Maya had horrible dreams about botfly infestations and bugs. At night, a sheet is set up with a light in front of it, so that it attracts insects. Kieran, the UBC student who studies social spiders, was catching small moths and other choice creatures to feed his spiders. Huge moths and beetles were attracted to the sheet, and one of the beetles had mites or lice all over its face. Maya was interested in the insects, but they became the subject of her nightmares and she was yelling and crying and fighting with them all night. I tried to calm her down several times, and held on to her for hours in an effort to comfort her. I did not sleep at all, and at 4 AM or so, I moved back to the lower bunk for a few hours and Eric took my place. Unfortunately, Eric's alarm went off at 6:30 AM and he got up with Maya. I tried to sleep a little longer, but I had to go to the bathroom, which was down the stairs and over at another building. I held on as long as I could, and then got up when I could wait no longer. There was a shower with hot water available, but no towels, and so I cleaned myself up minimally and joined the communal breakfast. Meals are everyone for himself, Tom and Eric were making oatmeal cookies, a girl from Germany was making apple pancakes and was using a sieve to get the lumps out of the batter. I found some Ecuadorian coffee and a French press, so I was able to avoid Nescafe, and the coffee was excellent.

Maya was having a wonderful time with the dogs, Beans and Rain, and with the students who came in and out of the kitchen making oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, etc. She is very friendly with everyone and her behaviour is a bit excessive. I am not sure if that is hormones or tweenage that is happening, but I keep wanting to tell her to moderate her enthusiasm, to pipe down, to be seen and not heard, but I say nothing. The scientists are discussing collaboration and encouraging the Ecuadorian scientists to participate. Harold is especially enthusiastic.

We take a walk to look for wrens and pass the San Isidro ecolodge that is known to birders. We do not hear the wrens that Eric is planning to study, but it is a wonderful sunny morning, and as we walk the mist rises over the cloud forest, and the place transforms. I imagine that this will be a place we return to.

Eric drives the wonderful truck back to Quito. His computer does not work anymore (the harddrive is finished) so Maya cannot watch Harry Potter, so we play wordgames all the way home. I sit in the front seat this time, and have a far better view of the cloud forest at 7000 feet and the changing landscape as we climb to 14000 feet. I want to pay attention to the grass paramo and the cushion paramo, so hike out a bit at the summit to find the succulent 'cushion' plants. It is so cold at the top. We can see the volcano Antisana hiding in the clouds in the distance. On our way here yesterday it was too cloudy and foggy and rainy to see anything and we did not stop because it was so inhospitable. I want to drive up to Papallacta to see the 'spectacled bears', but Eric is eager to return to Quito. We will return for a visit to the hot springs and look for bears. Tom has worked at Papallacta and a town twenty miles away quite regularly. The birds he studies live high up in the Andes, so he knows the area well. He tells met there is a place where the locals leave dead cows for he bears, and with binoculars, you can watch them come down and feed. Not exactly seeing the bears in nature, but interesting nevertheless.

The drive to Quito is all downhill from Papallacta. I try to imagine how Orrellana and Gonzales Pizarro and their men hiked up these mountains with their scores of native slaves and beasts of burden. What amazing men they were, clearly very determined and unswayed by the cold and the bears and the everchanging landscape. I wonder if they paid any attention to how incredibly beautiful the Andes are.