Don’t Mess With (Little) Texas!

I’ve been a bit behind on chronicling my recent life events, so just like my last post, this one is over a week past the incident.  But I could not let it go by without sharing it with you.  Warning: it’s not for the squeamish!

Some time back, a friend of Bill & Elaine’s came to visit.  Her name was Samantha and she was from Texas.  We became friends too, and so some other friends here nicknamed her “Feisty Texas” and me “Little Texas.”

Not long after that, I met my friend Terry, and in our times of running around together, I kept telling him I wanted a machete.  I was a woman living alone (still am) and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have such a thing handy.  He kept telling me he would get one for me, and eventually presented it to me for my birthday.

So now you have the background for this story…

I was coming down my stairs first thing in the morning, and paused at the first landing to open Charcoal’s bay window.  Just then I looked out in my yard to see this:

A snake slithering in and out of my bamboo fence.  I froze and my mind went through a list of several possible actions.  Finally, without taking my eyes off the snake, I called my neighbor, Ed, and asked, “Can you come kill this snake in my yard?”  “I’ll be right there,” was his response.  However, it became apparent as the minutes passed, that Ed’s “right there” was based on Ecuadorian time.  As I waited, I continued to watch this thing slowly slither its way around and across my fence, and make a turn towards my house.  It wasn’t going to be long before I lost it from my sight line out the window.  Knowing there were some potted plants, large rocks and various other spaces there that it could disappear into, and still seeing no sign of Ed’s vehicle headed my way, I did the only other thing I could think of.  Go back up to my bedroom and get this:

I paused at my front door to consider whether flip flops were appropriate foot wear for snake killing.  I took a look at the length of my machete and decided time was of the essence, rather than appropriate footwear.  I carefully rounded the corner and found the snake was halfway under some large rocks next to my house.  Only its back half was showing.  I knew everyone had always told me you were supposed to cut off the head.  But with a thought of what I would have to do to get at its head, and wondering how swiftly it would move once I disturbed it, I decided the best course of action was surprise attack wherever I could.  I raised my machete over my head and brought it down as hard as I could across the snake’s back (if there is such a thing).  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the result I wanted.  Apparently, when they sell you a machete, they leave it rather dull for the store and sale handling, and expect you to sharpen it later.  Rather than severing the snake, it merely injured it.  After one more whack, the snake brought its head out.  I then attempted to chop off its head, to no avail.  It took numerous hackings to get the thing dead.  When it was all over, with heart racing and hands shaking, I looked at the bloody machete – it felt like a scene from a horror movie.

I then called Ed to let him off the hook.  He scolded me for not waiting and said he’d be down anyway.  When he arrived, I explained that the snake was on the move and headed for my house.  We then found a new hole, just under my window next to my house.  Apparently the snake had recently made it his home and was headed that way.  Ed then said I did the right thing.

Ed and subsequently several others (my friend Terry, our gardener Jaime, and my Ecuadorian friend Luis) identified it as a boa constrictor.  They tried to convince me it was a “good” snake.  I felt a little guilty for just a moment, but then remembered that the Bible never calls any snake good.  I am a redeemed daughter of Eve and I HATE SNAKES!!!

There is a snake here in Ecuador, called the Echis, that is one of the most deadly in the world.  A bite from one will kill you in ten minutes.  I encountered one at my first rental, just a few months after I arrived, when I opened the door to find it on the door frame!  Its head was eye level with mine.  I slowly stepped back and called upstairs to Bill on their balcony.  When he came down and saw it, he took a step back in astonishment.  The goal was to get it gone without damaging the door.  After some thought and little weaponry, he hit it with a broom and it fell off and disappeared in an instant.  I suspected at the time and later identified what it was.  Since then, some of my volunteer workers recently made another suspected siting of one in our development.  So my reaction to snakes is to kill first and ask “what” later.  Fortunately, constrictors move slowly and are harmless.  Echis are very fast and highly aggressive.  So I take this all as a lesson to sharpen my machete!

Did I happen to mention that I HATE SNAKES!!!

Quito Is Neato! – Part 1

I am WAY overdue in writing this blog post, but lots of things got in the way as soon as I returned.   However, I cannot miss reporting on my recent chance to visit Quito.  There is a lot to tell, so this will be a three part blog series. 🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, up until now I’ve had very little opportunity to travel in this beautiful country where I live.  When I first arrived, I was busy settling in and completing my house (which honestly took nearly two years!)  Also, my job is seasonal, so I need to be working during the months when the bees are active, so I can have enough money to see me through the times they are not.  And lastly, I’ve always been concerned about leaving Charcoal alone for more than a few days without someone to come stay with her.  So last year I made a quick overnight visit to Salinas, and in December I was able to make a two night trip to Cuenca, but that has been the extent of my travels in Ecuador.

However recently, all opportunities aligned in my favor.  Bee season in Dallas is dormant from December through February.  And several months ago, I helped my third set of friends find a pet sitter through a website, to care for their cat and home while they traveled to Africa for 3 weeks.  Then I got the idea to see if the pet sitter (who was coming from Canada and using the trip as an opportunity to explore Ecuador) would tack on an extra week with me after finishing with my friends, so I could do some traveling too.  After obtaining an affirmative answer from her and beginning to ponder my options, a fellow lot owner and friend from my development informed me they were coming for their annual visit.  Maria and her husband Ivan are both from Ecuador, but moved to the U.S. as young adults to work and raise their family.  They’ve bought their lot here with plans to hopefully build and retire in a few years, but in the meantime they visit regularly.  The oldest of their two sons just became engaged, and since much of their family in Quito will not be able attend the wedding in the states, Maria planned to throw an engagement party for everyone to meet the young couple.  Her brother and his family (wife, two daughters, their spouses and four grandkids) were coming on the trip as well.  When Maria messaged me that they were coming to visit, she informed me of all the plans and then said, “And you’re invited to come to Quito and the party too!” – and it was precisely during the week that I’d arranged for the pet sitter!

Ironically, as it turned out, we left on the day of my birthfather’s funeral.  That was very poignant for me, because my birthfather was quite a world traveler and I’m confident I got my “wanderlust” for travel from him.  He had actually visited Ecuador at some point in his life, specifically Quito and the mountain areas to the north.  He remembered it fondly and the last time we spoke, I had just booked my plane tickets for the trip and was able to tell him of my plans.  He was very excited for me.

Maria’s family was so warm and really adopted me for the week.  We flew out of Manta on a Wednesday night (January 18).  This was my first flight inside of Ecuador, and it was so cool to fly as a resident with my cedula and not need my passport. 🙂

The very modern new Quito airport all lit up at night

The very modern new Quito airport all lit up at night

Maria had connected me with a lovely bed and breakfast in a suburb near where they were staying at her in-laws, and close to the party venue as well.  After the short 50 minute flight (gate to gate) and quick baggage retrieval, I was met by a pre-arranged taxi driver and taken to my cozy quarters.  I awoke the next morning to a beautiful garden and surroundings and sumptuous breakfast.  Casa Magnolia is a wonderful place to stay.


Touring in our private van

Touring in our private van

Maria had hired a private, 16 person van and tour guide to take us around to see the towns and mountain areas north of Quito.  I was very excited for this opportunity to visit many places I’d heard about for a long time.  One mountain village, Cotacochi, is famous for its leather working artisans, and was where I once thought I might want to live.  Unfortunately for us, these first two days of touring plans were greatly hampered by unseasonably heavy, all day torrential rains (which was happening all over Ecuador – my poor hour sitter was dealing with leaks at my house back home!)  We made the best of the circumstances, as one is forced to do, but had to forego several things on our agenda, including Cotacochi. 😦

DAY 1:  This day we visited the area of Mindo, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Quito.  The internet best describes this beautiful region:

Mindo is a village in the Andes Mountains of northern Ecuador. It’s known for the many bird species, butterflies and orchids found in the surrounding cloud forest, part of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. A tarabita (cable car) runs over the Nambillo River to a mountaintop, where trails lead to several waterfalls, including Cascada Nambillo. Zip lines run through the forest canopy. Tubing on the Mindo River is popular.

On our way up, our guide suggested stopping at a spot where we could make a short walk to a waterfall.  The forest scenery was amazing.  I wondered if we weren’t in the Amazon, because the leaves were certainly amazon in size!  We arrived at the waterfall and it truly was a peaceful refuge and beautiful sight – well worth the walk.

It started raining when we arrived at Mindo.  I was excited for the possibility of my first zip-line adventure here, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  However, we did stop at the hummingbird refuge and enjoyed seeing several different varieties.  We then hired a pick-up truck taxi to take us the 5 km drive back to where the cable car was.  I guess this was kind of like group zip-lining, and the cloud forest view was spectacular, despite the rain.  Here is a short video clip of the experience:

Once on the other side, there was some discussion of who wanted to hike back to one of the waterfalls – the Cascada Reina.  My friend Maria said she was not going and I said I’d stay behind too.  But she said, “No Mary, you have to go – you are here, you have to do it!”  So I hesitantly agreed and headed off with the future newlyweds and her younger son, for what we were told was a “10 minute hike.”  Let’s just say that hike became “Survivor Ecuador” for me!  Imagine a grueling, steep, wet, muddy, slippery, downhill trek for I don’t know how long (maybe an hour?!)  At times I thought I wouldn’t make it and was feeling every bit my 50+ years.  At the end, you had to grab a rope to pull up the steep incline to get to the waterfall.  In all honesty, having been to Niagra Falls, everything else pales in comparison.  But this was what I got to view for my efforts:

Going back was another story.  A steep, uphill climb that was easier as far as less potential for slipping and falling in the mud, but oh the huffing and puffing at that altitude!  When it was all said and done, I told Maria it was the last time I let her talk me into doing something she wouldn’t do herself!  (I did have a few slippings on the way down, but no falls.  Maria’s husband fell in the mud five times!)

Once back in the pick-up taxi, I was in the front seat, a mom and the kids in the back seat and everyone else in the back bed of the truck, standing up and holding on to railings.  Just a few moments into the drive back, the sky opened up and it started to pour!  When we finally arrived at our pre-reserved lunch destination, those poor people were soaked to the bone!  The lodge/restaurant brought out towels for them and offered to dry their jackets and whatever else they cared to shed.  Here was how Maria’s husband Ivan was dressed for lunch:

Ivan's lunch attire after getting trapped in the back of a pick-up during a downpour

Ivan’s lunch attire after getting trapped in the back of a pick-up during a downpour

After our very late, but delicious lunch (that became our dinner) we drove all the way back to Quito in the dark and pouring rain.  I arrived back at 9:30 p.m. with the plan to be up for another day of touring the following day.

Otavalo market

The wet, but still colorful Otavalo artesian market

imageDAY 2:  This day started out just like the previous day left off – pouring rain.  The rain and subsequent traffic hampered our efforts to get out of Quito in a timely manner.  Also, sadly, what should have been a very scenic drive, was obscured by the rain and clouds.  Our goal was to visit the famous indigenous market town of Otavalo.  Because of the weather and time constraints, we bypassed the beautiful San Pablo lake, only getting a glimpse of it in a rainy drive by.  Upon arriving in Otavalo, we went straight to the market, but only had about 30 minutes to shop.  This was a place where normally one could spend all day.  However the rain and cold were miserable.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much I would have wanted to buy, because I’ve lived here three years and bought many of those goods (hammocks, alpaca blankets, shirts, scarves, jewelry, etc.) in other places.  I did buy a scarf to go with my dress that I was wearing to the party, and also a large cloth bag for travel.

Next, the guides took us to our lunch destination, which was a beautiful old hacienda on a large estate.  It was a relief to be out of the weather and once again, we had a beautiful meal.  But afterwards, due to the weather and time constraints, we made the sad decision to forego visiting Cotacochi and Cuicocha (a lake in the middle of a volcano crater) and head back to Quito.  It was a long day’s travel (5 hours) for not much activity. 😦

Tune in next time for “La Fiesta” and Quito, with LOTS of pictures…

Ho Ho Ho!

This week, my good friends, Bill & Elaine, had a few of us over for brunch.  Every so often, they host a gathering of the “old gang” – me, Sam and Mesfin, our former neighbors from when Bill, Elaine and I had first arrived here, and we were renting across the street and next door from them respectively.

Several weeks ago, I was shopping with Elaine and found one of those cheap, reindeer headbands.  I told her I was going to buy it for Tag and she said, “He won’t wear it,” and I said, “He just has to keep it on long enough for me to get a picture.”

So below you will see (with Elaine’s assistance), Tag the reindeer:

Tag reindeer

They are also fostering a little stray puppy that they are keeping until some people, who are moving to their development next month, arrive from Canada and adopt him.  So here is little Pumba in big brother Tag’s reindeer gear:

Pumba reindeer

And finally, in the spirit of the season, it seemed fitting for the rest of us to get into the act as well.  So there you have it folks – now all we need is a sleigh!


Tag Antics

Well, it’s been a while since I published anything about my goddog, Tag, but rest assured he’s still a big part of my life here.  For those who might be new to my blog, a quick insert of “Tag” in the search box will provide plenty of “doggy tales” (pun intended) about my lovable friend (and his lovable parents).  I was the first one to lay eyes on him after Bill & Elaine adopted him nearly three years ago, and he’s held a soft spot in my heart ever since.

So last week, Elaine and I were shopping in a popular store in Manta, and we strolled through the kids section on the way to another part of the store.  There, hanging on the wall, were tons of these squeaky chicken toys (for $1.25 each).  I told Elaine I had to buy one for Tag and she said, “He’ll just tear it up,” and I said, “But it will be so fun to watch him!”

So today, I finally had the opportunity to visit and deliver his present.  When I got there with my bag filled with various other items, I told him, “Tag, I have a toy for you,” and he seemed to know exactly what I was saying.  As I put the bag down, he sniffed at it, and then anxiously waited while I pulled all the other items out.  When the chicken came out, he got all excited the second he saw it.  We took the packaging off and he was jumping up and down before I even gave it to him.  Below are a few short video clips of his enthusiastic play time with his new toy.

But don’t be fooled – there was lots of throw and chase and tug of war as well.  It will be interesting to see how long the chicken lasts.  I think I need to go buy about five more.

There She Blows!

Yesterday, I finally got an opportunity for a long awaited “do-over.”  It’s whale watching season here in Ecuador and in the nearly three years I’ve lived here, I’d only been on one whale excursion.  That one was two years ago with Robert, when he returned in July (during the time I later learned from his brother, it was his intention to come here to die).  He had returned longing to see the whales and we had booked an excursion straight away.  But by the time the day arrived, he was in such a “bad place,” that he hardly even spoke to me the whole day and slept through much of the time on the boat.  In addition, it was a cold, dreary day, and we hardly saw any whales.  The few pictures I got for my blog post (a month later after he’d left) were from him – none of mine came out.

So when Bill & Elaine came back from Canada early enough this year to be here for whale season, I was thrilled for the opportunity to take a tour with them.  We had all (including Robert) gone on the island tour together in our first few months here, and it was such a special day.  It was so fitting to be with them for another tour that could erase the disappointment of the last one I took.

Our mutual friends Kelley and Teresa joined us for the day.  My advance prayers for beautiful weather, calmer waters (no white caps) and lots of whales were all granted – we could not have asked for a more perfect day!  We started out by having breakfast in Puerto Lopez before our excursion and ran into some of our friends from Cayo at the restaurant.  Afterwards, we headed off to check in at the tour office, and then to the pier to board our boat.  The five of us were the token “gringos” on the trip – the rest of the boat was filled with Ecuadorian families.  After going to one spot and not seeing much, they took us to another location where some other boats were and there, we really got to see some action.  Two whales in particular kept coming right up to our boat!

Below are a few pictures and some highlight video of the best observations of the day.  Please note, I had no zoom on my photos/video – the whales really were that close!

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A Few Updates

Life here for me has been going along pretty routinely, as life tends to do.  But here are a few highlights of the past month:

Me with my sweet friend Fatima. In addition to being a wonderful friend, she cleans a great house and gives a mean massage too!

Me with my sweet friend Fatima this past Christmas

I’ve briefly mentioned a few times my dear friend, Fatima.  She is one of my favorite people here, but pretty much everyone else would easily say the same.  Everyone loves Fatima!  In addition, she gives a great massage and cleans a mean house, both of which she does for me once a month.  When she started doing so, she didn’t have many other customers.   But I can’t keep a good thing to myself, so now she has about as much business as she can handle.  Anyway, when I found out her upcoming birthday was going to be the big 50, I just had to plan a surprise party for her, so that everyone would have a chance to show her how much we love and appreciate her.  We held it at the hotel restaurant next door (which has become the regular ex-pat hang out) and had a crowd of around 30.  It took three weeks of planning and scheming, but she was sufficiently surprised and deeply touched by the turnout.  We told people they could gift her with 50 of something and my gift was 50 roses (in Ecuador, $24 complete with vase!)

Fatima with her 50 roses that I gave for her birthday

Fatima with her 50 roses that I gave for her birthday

We are full swing into our whale season and despite everyone telling me of plenty of sightings, I hadn’t seen any.  So yesterday I finally took the time to sit on my deck until I spotted some and it didn’t take long.  With my binoculars, I saw plenty of action, including two big ones making repeated jumps out of the water and huge splashes.  It was a pretty cool way to spend a not so busy “bee call” day.  I plan on going on another whale watching excursion next month.

And finally, after only a 10 week absence (verses their previous 8 and 6 months respectively), my good friends Bill and Elaine returned earlier this past week and are back to stay for 9 months.  I went out to visit on Wednesday and had a wonderful dinner and catch up time with them, and also enjoyed a Sunday brunch and card game, along with Fatima and some other friends, at the restaurant next door this afternoon.  Sadly, I missed this year’s “Tag reunion.”  I had planned to go out to their home and meet them when they returned.  But their scheduled 9:00 p.m. arrival was going to be delayed until after midnight because their bags missed their flight.  So I made the hard decision not to deal with the complicated logistics to be there.  The sweet couple we found to house and dog sit during their absence, graciously filmed the brief reunion.  So for those who don’t want to miss number three in the series, here you go:

There’s been plenty of other work, social gatherings and drama to fill the time, but that pretty much gives you the positive highlights for my month of July.  Hello August!