Thankful For Friends

This year marks my 5th Thanksgiving in Ecuador!  It’s interesting when you are in a foreign country and celebrating a big holiday for you, that the rest of the country doesn’t even acknowledge.  In Ecuador, the 4th Thursday in November is just like every other day.  But those of us who are from, or who lived in the U.S., know it as one of the biggest celebrated holidays there.  So our local expat community enjoys keeping the tradition here, and this year I gathered with 15 of my closest friends to celebrate.  Never mind that only four of us were originally from the U.S.!  Not to mention, our host, Wayne, is from Canada and our hostess, Fatima, is half Brazilian and half Japanese!  But they did live in Houston, TX for about 10 years, so they certainly qualified to host the gathering.

It was such a wonderful evening spent with people who have become family to me.  We had TONS of good food – and I made chocolate orange marmalade cake! 😮  And we all agreed that topping our gratitude list are the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  Below are pictures of the festivities (click on the first photo, to scroll through it as a larger slide show and read the captions):


Mall Mania!

Bloggers note: this blog post is three weeks old!  I’ve had it mostly written, but life got so busy, I never got back to finishing and posting it.  Since then, Bill & Elaine have returned to Canada for the summer, and I’ve been to the mall four more times!  But I thought it best to leave it in its original format.

This week my good friend, Elaine, and I made a trip to Manta to check out the less than a week old new shopping mall!

Elaine and me in front of one of the entrances. The sun was too bright for our friend to see well, so she just got the “Pacifico” of the sign, but you get the idea.

I have actually known about this mall long before the general public.  It was just after I arrived in Ecuador and was stuggling to correct my property/visa fiasco.  One day I was in the office of my first (bad) attorney, and he couldn’t help himself from boasting and proudly telling me he’d just helped close a deal for a new shopping mall in Manta.  He asked if I’d like to see the architectural drawings and showed me the artist renderings of the new project.  I asked where it would be and he said, “Do you know where the abandoned olymipic sized swimming pool is?”  I did – it was right in the heart of town, just across from the original SuperMaxi grocery story.  I asked him how long before it would be open and he told me four years.  That seemed like an eternity to this few months old new immigrant.

But I watched the spot, and sure enough some months later dirt began to move.  Knowing that things usually take much longer in Ecuador than they say to accomplish (if ever), I wondered if I’d live to see it completed.  But the earthquake really motivated them to step up the pace, with the goal of finishing it in time for the anniversary.  They opened last Thursday, just a few days past, to a large and very excited crowd of 70,000 people (according to the local paper).  I would have been among them, but was in Manta that day with my friends Mesfin and Elaine, both who didn’t want to go anywhere near the mayhem.  However we did drive by a few times and witness the crowds and excitement.

On Tuesday, Elaine and I took the first bus in and last bus home, and still barely had time to scratch the surface!  Elaine had previously told me she wasn’t really a mall person.  I told her growing up in Dallas, a city full of shopping malls, I still usually only went once or twice a year, mainly at Christmas time to enjoy the decorations and festive environment.  But even if I don’t care to go often, I just like knowing I have options, and this mall has certainly brought us many more options than we’ve had in this part of the country up until now.

The new Mall Del Pacifico is now one of the five largest malls in Ecuador, and that says a lot because there are many in Quito and Guayaquil that rival anything I’ve ever seen in my hometown of Dallas.  The new mall is 120,000 square meters and has 200 business, as well as a section for medical offices.  It will also soon open an attached seven story, 126 room hotel.  The best part about all of this is the many local people that the mall will employee.

There are so many things that we couldn’t find in our grocery and other stores before, that we can now find here.  Malls in Ecuador almost always have a mega grocery store in them, and this mall has transformed our small neighborhood sized SuperMaxi grocery store into a MegaMaxi (it’s basically like a Super Walmart or Target).  Having spent a lot of time discovering some other new stores, we only had 1.5 hours in there on our first visit, and that wasn’t nearly enough – we needed at least four!  So many more choices of food items we’ve never had access to here.  Maybe still not everything we are missing from back in N. America, but I was so excited to find couscous, Dijon mustard and REAL maple syrup!

We discovered several other great stores as well.  One thing that always makes me laugh in Ecuador is how stores will carry such an odd mixture of items that we would never put together in a store back in the states.  Elaine and I went into one store and on one side it had all kinds of items for commerical kitchens and restaurants.  On the other side was equipment and supplies for beauty salons!  We finally realized the connection of supplying to these two professional industries, but it was so funny to have one aisle with cool kitchen gadgets and on the next, nail polish and hair dye!

Plasticware and medical supply equipment – what a store combination!

Another new store we loved was called Almacenes Estuardo Sánchez.  This was another everything store from housewares, to office supplies, kitchen items, toys, etc.  But what really cracked me up was rounding the corner of looking in several aisles of plastic kitchen goods, to find a huge section of medical equipment!  The thing we loved most about this store was their prices.  We are used to many household and decorative items being quite expensive, but we found the prices in this store to be very low.

The only thing I was a bit disappointed in was the food court area.  Official articles before the mall opened stated we’d have such new offerings as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and even TGI Fridays.  But none of these were among the vendors, with no “coming soon” signs or even apparent space to be added later.  Most of the restaurants are Ecuadorian fare, with the exception of KFC and Pizza Hut.  But my favorite local cafe/bakery, Dulce y Cremosa, has TWO locations in the mall!

There is really a nice variety of stores and services (including four banks and a beauty salon).  And since the mega grocery store is there, the mall can easily be the one stop shop for everything.  All the places I taxied around to each week, now in one air conditioned location – sweet! 🙂

Below are a few more pictures (thanks to my friend, Ryan Kelly, for most of them off his Ecuador Shores Realty Facebook page):

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One Year Later…

Well, today marks one year since the devastating 7.8 earthquake that rocked Ecuador last April.  I find it very fitting that the anniversary falls on Easter/Resurrection Sunday, a day that celebrates the new life we have been offered in Jesus.  My friend, Aileen, wrote a short, but fitting Easter blog post, and I would encourage you to take a look.  But I would like to briefly update you on the earthquake recovery efforts in my area.

Demolition in the devastated Tarqui area following the earthquake

My shopping city of Manta has made an amazing comeback!  Many buildings have been repaired or torn down, although there are still others awaiting either.  Most impressive has been the efforts towards helping the many home and store owners/vendors of the destroyed Tarqui area.  For the most part, Tarqui still remains closed off and demolished.  I have been told eventually all of it will be torn down and turned into a large city park.  But the government has done a fabulous job of building a whole new area, even closer to the bus terminal, for the venders to relocate and sell their wares.  There are three large sections side by side, with two sections being rows and rows of garage style stalls.  The third section is larger stores made out of railroad car containers!  This area has some of the bigger chain stores here, including appliance stores, pharmacies and even a bank, as well as a food court area.  All of this opened within about six months after the earthquake.  There is also a new mall that was under construction prior to the earthquake, but afterwards they really stepped up the pace, with the goal of opening it in time for the anniversary.  They are falling a few days short, but I’ve heard it will be open this week – we are all very excited!

Edwin playing tour guide during Mike & Dana’s visit. We rode in the car he purchased with your GoFundMe contributions.

In addition, the people many of you personally helped are doing very well.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, my friend Edwin was able to get back on his feet quickly with the vehicle that was purchased with funds many of you donated.  As is true of many hard working Ecuadorians, he wears several entrepreneurial hats to make a good life for his family.  He now is in partnership with another friend of ours and has started a successful car rental business.  He also has been buying and selling silver jewelry, as well as doing private taxi and tour guiding when the opportunities come.

Edwin has also reported to me that his church has raised enough funds to begin work on a new building.  It is truly amazing that they could manage to do so in such a short time, considering all the personal devastation suffered by so many families in the earthquake.

The funds some of you donated helped erect this structure for Leonardo and Maria: foundation, columns and roof, all built to better earthquake standards. Part of it is now enclosed, with the hope that he can add more rooms later.

And finally, the couple from Edwin’s church, Leonardo and Maria, that some of you helped fund their rebuilding effort, are doing well.  It took quite a while from my initial appeal, to make it happen.  Funds came in slowly, and the work had to be done as we received the money and had volunteers to help.  A neighbor allowed them to build next to and use their existing wall, and we were able to make a good concrete foundation, support pillars and roof for them, as well as buy some bricks for the remaining three walls.  We fell short of the amount we needed to raise, but in the end God blessed Leonardo with a significant sized plumbing job, and he was able to contribute the remaining money to purchase what else was needed and finish putting up the walls.  That has only been completed in the past few months, and he will add water, electricity, more rooms, etc. as he is able.  But I’m happy to be able to show you these pictures that Edwin just recently took of an inaugural gathering Leonardo and Maria hosted in their new home:

The earthquake I went through was truly one of the most surreal events I’ve ever experienced and something I hope to never repeat in my lifetime.  However my damage was minimal and repaired within six months.  Many other people suffered loss of homes, livelihoods and even loved ones.  But I have been so impressed with the solidarity I’ve continued to see on every level, from individuals, to organizations and even the government, to help get Ecuador and its people back on their feet.  I am thankful, one year later on this Easter Sunday, to be able to look around so many places and see “beauty instead of ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3)

Dana’s Guest Perspective

When my friend Deanna came to visit, I asked her to write her guest perspective after she returned home.  I requested the same of Amy & Melanie, but they got thrown back into their busy lives and never got around to it.  So I warned Dana early on that I wasn’t going to let her forget to write her reflections from their trip.  Here is what she had to say about her visit to Ecuador:

Hello all – first let me say I am a terrible writer, but Mary asked me to give my thoughts of my visit, so I will try my best to give a visitor’s perspective of Ecuador for the first time.

I was so excited to be able to finally get to visit.  I have been wanting to go ever since she moved there, but year after year something big had been going on.  I knew that I wanted to go in February, and I knew I wanted to have plenty of time there.  So finally around November, I looked at the 2017 calendar, checked with my husband, Mike, and determined it was a “Go.”  I called Mary and the timing was perfect.  God was good to us during this trip, and I wanted to give you my thoughts on Ecuador and Mary’s life there.

I loved Ecuador, the people, Mary’s house, the food and her community.  It was just a blessing to be able to go and visit. Mary was so wonderful to carve out the time for us, and she was a wonderful host.  She had everything perfectly planned, and God gave us perfect weather.  I felt like I was in a luxury hotel, the view was gorgeous with the beach and the sunsets, and then the mountains on the other side to see beautiful sunrises.  It was peaceful from the very minute we arrived.  I loved the little restaurant in Mary’s community – everyone knew everyone and it was like family.  They just hung out, laughed and talked, and the food was fantastic.  Since Mary’s water was filtered, we could drink and shower without fear of getting sick.  I got to meet all of the people in her community, and got to visit her good friends, Bill and Elaine, the second day.  What a great couple, and they treated us to dinner, pool time, beach volleyball and great stories.  Over the time we were there, it was so amazing to see all the connections that Mary had made, and the respect that people there have for her.  She has a great balance of respecting the culture and differences, and then bringing in her own influences.  It was so fun to see Mary speak Spanish just like a pro.  One of the days we went into town, we ran into Duver, who was riding on his motorcycle.  It was a fun atmosphere to be able to just run into people on the street that she knew and just talk and visit, like we had all the time in the world.  Also we got to meet Sam and see his place in town – we just stopped by and played cards during the day.  Mary had us try all the local foods there, and the lunch specials that gave a taste of the culture.  The food was fantastic, and the fresh fruit was amazing too.  Such a variety of different tastes that would grow in one of the neighbor’s yards, or would come on a fruit truck.  One of the other people we got to meet was Edwin, who had lost his transportation in the earthquake about a year ago.  We got to listen to his first hand experience on how scary it was, and how he was so blessed with the donations from everyone.  He was able to continue his business and make money to provide for his family (I was also able to meet his precious wife and daughter).

I was so excited when we found a church in Cuenca because the city has tons of Catholic churches, so I was not sure if there would be one there.  But again God prepared the way and gave us our desire that day.  One of my favorite songs, and was so appropriate for Mary, was the “Oceans” song.   They were singing in Spanish and I was singing in English. We were all in one spirit, just different languages.

Mary planned our trip out so well, that we got to experience so much in such a short amount of time, yet didn’t feel exhausted when we got home.  I loved that it was the same time zone, and that we had quality friend time with people, but experienced the big cities and “tourist” spots, as well as hanging out at the beach with friends.

If any of you reading this has the opportunity to go and visit, I would encourage you to do it.  It was such a blessing.  If you love Mary’s blog, the trip makes everything come to life.  I would say just go if you can – you will love it!

Window To My World – Part 2

This is the follow-up to my last post about my friends, Mike and Dana’s, visit…

DAY 6 – This day was our relaxing beach day.  We slept in a bit, enjoyed breakfast, then got ourselves and our gear ready to head to the beach.  The weather and waves cooperated perfectly, and we enjoyed our time swimming in the ocean, laying out and walking on the beach. After several hours, we returned home to begin washing clothes, packing and preparing for our next day’s travels.  We then headed next door again for dinner, where once more they enjoyed the atmosphere, food and visiting with some of my local friends.

DAY 7 – We were up EARLY in order to be picked up by a taxi at 6:00 a.m. to go to Jipijapa, and then catch a bus to Guayaquil, and then another to Cuenca.  I got to make my first trip to Cuenca back in December with my friends, Donald & ML, and I was excited to get to share it with Mike and Dana.  However, this would be my first time to travel there by bus, and the other major caveat was that it was Carnaval weekend!  Dana had booked their flights, we’d made our plans and I’d made our reservations and then later thought, “I should see when Carnaval falls this year.”  Sure enough, it was right on that weekend.  Carnaval is a HUGE holiday here lasting 5 days and is a time of revelry and travel for Ecuadorians all over the country.  Every time I told anyone, including Ecuadorian friends, that I was going to be traveling to Cuenca over Carnaval, their eyes got huge as if to say, “You are brave – good luck!”  My only hope was that our travel timing would fall ahead of the normal days/times and that we wouldn’t have any problems.  Fortunately, this turned out to be the case and everything went smoothly.  Well, almost everything…

Partial view of mudslide as we were driving past

Our bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca encountered a spot where there was a huge mud/landslide blocking the road.  A very bumpy and treacherous bypass had been made, and shortly after going over it, our bus got a flat tire.  Once we realized what was happening, several men got off the bus.  Dana and I were feeling good that with so many men available to help, we’d be under way in no time.  But when we finally stuck our heads out the window to see what was happening, in true Ecuadorian fashion, all the men were standing around with their arms folded watching the poor bus driver change the flat tire!  Finally after an hour, the chore was completed.  Mike helped carry away a bolder that was used to prop the bus, and we were ready to head out again.

One of many waterfalls

Our drive through Caja National Park was even more beautiful than when I went in December.  Since we’ve been having so much rain, everything was more green, and the waterfalls were flowing everywhere.  We arrived in Cuenca around 3:00 p.m. and caught a taxi to our hostel in the historic area, that I’d booked for us on Airbnb.  We were sharing a two room/one bath apartment.  We settled in and then went for a walk through part of the city and found a great little cafe for our dinner.  Mike had stopped in a store on our walk to buy a deck of cards, and we enjoyed playing our card game while waiting for our meal.

The newspaper we saw when we checked into our hostel told us the Carnaval festivities had begun!

Our walk back to our hostel was very fortuitous.  Dana was really wanting to find a church for us to attend on Sunday morning.  She’d been in touch with a missionary friend of a friend in another part of Ecuador, who had given her a contact in Cuenca, however she never could reach him to get any information.  She was still trying to research and make contact while we were having dinner.  But as we walked back to our hostel (which we could have done in many possible routes), we passed a building with a sign and realized it was a Christian church.  Mike and I were reading it and the name of the church was “Tiempos Nuevos” – New Times.  Their byline said (in Spanish), “Where the presence of God is real.”  As we were looking at the worship times posted, a man came up going inside the building and greeted us.  Turns out he was the pastor’s son.  We talked with him a bit about the church and shortly after, his mother arrived as well.  He showed us the auditorium and told us they had over 500 members and two Sunday morning services!  We were very excited and told him we planned to return on Sunday.  We walked back to our hostel and after a few more card games, turned in for the night.

DAY 8 – After a hearty breakfast at our hostel, we walked to the main park in order to catch the city bus tour.  Life in Ecuador does not begin early, so there were not many people out or shops open as we strolled through the city at 8:30 a.m.  We purchased our tickets for the first tour, then stepped inside the main cathedral during our wait.  They were having a mass, so it was a treat to be in there at that time.  Once our bus arrived, we took a strategic seat up top in the open air to enjoy the view.  This was the same tour I took in December when it began pouring rain, so it was wonderful to get to experience it with clear skies.  Dana got some great pictures of historic colonial Cuenca:

Once we reached the top area, called Turi, we had a picturesque view of the city.  Dana got a great panoramic shot and then some nice young guys, who were taking some very professional looking photos, traded group picture shots with us:

Mike and Dana along the river walk

Dana and me at our lunch spot along the river

After our tour, we strolled down to the river walk area, where we found a nice place for lunch.  Here, they got to experience “Almuerzo,” which is the typical Ecuadorian lunch.  It’s like the daily special and consists of soup; a second course of main entre (this day it was fish with a sauce), rice, fried plantain and salad; juice; and in this case dessert – all for $3.50.  Mike loved it!

The rest of the day we just walked around the city, exploring the different areas.  Dana did some final souvenir shopping for her family in the artesian market area, while Mike wandered around catching unsuspecting Ecuadorians by surprise with his cans of spray foam, in true Carnaval fashion.  Afterwards, we headed back to our hostel just as it began to sprinkle.  We dropped off our things, grabbed our deck of cards and went across the street to a pizza parlor for dinner.  While there, the rain really began to come down as it was getting dark.  We enjoyed our large and delicious slices of pizza, while talking, laughing and playing cards, and were so thankful that we didn’t have to walk any farther than across the street in the rain to turn in for the night.

DAY 9 – Dana and I were at breakfast at 7:00 a.m. sharp, so we could then catch a cab to the bus terminal to purchase our tickets for the next morning.  That whole endeavor took about 15 minutes round trip, then we returned to match up with Mike, who had gone for a morning run.  After he finished breakfast, we walked back to the nearby church we’d discovered on Friday.  We were the first to arrive and greeted Jonathan, the son of the pastor, that we had met before.  The auditorium filled up and the worship music began.  It was almost like being back in my home congregation – except it was all in Spanish.  But much to my delight, as I read and sang the song lyrics on the screen, I could understand almost every word!  Just before the sermon, the final song was one that many of my church family back home would recognize – “Oceans.”  Dana leaned over and said, “That’s your song!”  Here is a video clip she took:

The pastor was animated and funny, and although at times I had a hard time keeping up with what he was saying, I got the general gist of the sermon, as he told the stories of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and encouraged the congregation that no matter the challenges and difficulties we are facing in our lives, Jesus never abandons us.

After church, we met the pastor and his family out front and chatted with them for a little while, before the next service began.  We took a group photo and then Dana pulled a fast one on Mike.  As he and I continued to talk with the pastor, she approached one of the young guys hanging around out front.  How she communicated with no Spanish I don’t know, but she convinced him to take the can of spray foam she’d tucked away and surprise Mike by spraying him when she stepped aside.  It was a pretty funny moment:

Dana and me relaxed and glowing after our spa treatments

After church we found a cafe to grab a quick bite to eat, then caught a taxi to Piedra de Agua Spa, just outside of Cuenca.  The spa has caves, hot mineral and mud baths, all from volcanic origins.  Mike and Dana each enjoyed cave massages, while I waited for them in the steam room.  Afterwards, Mike headed to the pool area, while Dana and I did the full spa circuit: steam rooms, red mud bath, blue mud bath, hot pool, cold pool and steam box.  Afterwards, we relaxed in one of the three swimming pools.  We didn’t at all mind when it started sprinkling.  Although a bit crowded with holiday families just using the pool facilities, we had a great time.  Afterwards, we took a cab back to Cuenca, enjoyed dinner at one of the few restaurants we were able to find open (everything shuts down in Cuenca on Sundays), and then walked back to our hostel and called it an early night.

DAY 10 – Our final day, we caught an 8:00 a.m. bus back to Guayaquil.  The drive through Caja National Park was as clear and beautiful as I’d ever seen it.  Once back in Guayaquil, we checked into a hotel that I’ve stayed in several times before, dropped our bags and headed down to tour the malecon area.  The first thing we did was ride the new four month old giant ferris wheel.  For my Dallas friends, it’s not quite as big as the Texas Star, but close enough, and during its 20 minute rotation, gives a great view of Guayaquil.

After our ride, we grabbed a smoothie and then walked along the malecon (riverwalk) area, taking in the sites.  Of course, Mike continued to accost unsuspecting children with spray foam.  He finally decided to relinquish what he had left to one little boy, who was thrilled with the baton hand off:

Mike engrossed in watching the international game

Much of Guayaquil was actually shut down for the holiday.  Because it is a big city, most people leave and go to the beach.  Due to not having a lot of available options, we ended up in the mall at the food court for dinner.  But don’t be fooled!  This is no ordinary food court, with at least 20 different types of restaurants, with every kind of food imaginable.  We each were quite happy with our choosings, and Mike was also quite happy that some older men sat down next to us and began playing chess.  He was very absorbed in watching them, which easily allowed Dana and I plenty of time for a shopping stroll.  Once she and I returned, we all walked the short distance back to our hotel and spent the rest of the night in the breakfast area finishing out our 31 card game tournament (I came back from behind to win it!)

The following morning we met down in the lobby at 5:30 a.m. to say our goodbyes.  Shortly after, our respective taxis arrived – their’s to take them to the airport for their 7:45 a.m. flight and mine to take me to the bus terminal, where I was able to immediately get a bus to Jipijapa, then another to Puerto Cayo, and a taxi to my home.  I walked in my house exactly 4 hours after leaving the hotel.

So there you have it – the summary of Mike & Dana’s “Window to My World” tour.  So who is going to come visit me next???

Below is a slideshow of a few more pictures of some of what we saw and did – enjoy!

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Window To My World – Part 1

As I’ve mentioned before in my About page, the original target audience for my blog was for my friends and family back home to be able to follow my adventures in Ecuador.  I am grateful to all who stay in touch and keep up with some of the goings on in my life here.

But I really thrill when I get the opportunity to share that life with people in person!  When I first arrived, my friends Gail and Jefferson came with me, and stayed 4 days to help me transition and get settled.  Then, on my first birthday here, my good friend Deanna and her friend Kristy, made a huge sacrifice to visit for just 3 days, so I would have some “home folks” to celebrate with me.  The following year, my long-time and dearest friends, Amy and Melanie, left behind their spouses and four kids (each!) to come for 5 days and get a taste of my life here.

So this year, it was a real treat when my good friends, Dana and Mike, decided to visit me for 10 days!  I first met and got to know Dana and Mike separately many years ago at the church I attended back in Dallas.  They didn’t really know each other, and I’m the one who introduced them some time later.  Never mind that I was simply referring Mike to Dana to paint her house after he did such a great job on mine.  I certainly wasn’t expecting there to be a wedding as a result!  But they’ve now been happily married for six years, so this year they decided to visit me as a belated anniversary trip (they got married on 1/11/11 – there’s that number 11 again!)  They are also the friends who invited Charcoal and me to move in with them for the five weeks between my home sale and moving here.  The last time I saw them was the morning I left for Ecuador.

Despite their travel delay, Dana was beyond amused at the pat down Mike got for bringing an illegal amount of gel in his carry on bag. This was one of the more tame photos she took!

Their Friday, February 17, departure started out a bit bumpy.  The flight from Dallas to Miami was cancelled due to mechanical problems, and the next flight did not allow for them to make their connecting one.  Fortunately, there was one more flight that night leaving Miami for Guayaquil.  Their 11:00 p.m. arrival became 2:30 a.m.!  I’d hired my taxi friend Jo at first, but she couldn’t make the time change, so Edwin came to our rescue.  We arrived at my house at 6:00 a.m., minus three bags that got left in Miami. 😦  Two of them contained left behind items they were bringing for me, and one was all Dana’s clothes.  She borrowed some of mine for three days until the suitcases were finally delivered on Monday afternoon.

DAY 1 – They slept in until noon, we enjoyed a late and leisurely breakfast, took a walk around my neighborhood and spent time catching up.  Later, we had dinner at the beach bar/restaurant next door to my development, where they got to meet several of my local ex-pat friends.

DAY 2 – We had our own Sunday morning worship and communion service together, then called my local taxi driver/friend, Olimpio, to take us out to Mirador San Jose so they could meet Bill, Elaine & Tag.  We spent the day visiting, swimming in the pool, the guys played beach volleyball, and Elaine fed us dinner, before Olimpio picked us up and took us back to my house that evening.  (It should be noted that this day, a Sunday, was the presidential election in Ecuador and all citizens were required to vote.  No alcohol sales or public drinking was allowed for the entire weekend!  There was no clear percentage winner, so a runoff election between the top two will be held next month.)

DAY 3 – We took an early morning bus to one of my favorite hang out towns, Puerto Lopez, where we enjoyed an authentic Ecuadorian breakfast, walked around, and they did some shopping.  Then we grabbed a taxi and headed for the nearby local indigenous community of Agua Blanca.  I’ve previously reported on visiting here, first with my friend Sigrid, and next with Amy and Melanie.  I’ve since been with other ex-pat friends, so this was my fourth visit.  We toured the museum, Dana bought jewelry from the local ladies, then we hiked the trail back to the sulfur pond for our natural spa treatment.  We spent the entire afternoon there and took a taxi home that evening.

DAY 4 – Mike was hoping for an opportunity to go fishing, so I contacted my friend Terry, who frequently fishes with local Ecuadorian friends.  He agreed to plan an excursion for them.  That morning, we walked along the beach and into town in the area where I once rented and where Terry & Teresa live.  We stopped to visit my friend Sam, for Mike & Dana to meet him and see his bed & breakfast and beautiful gardens.  It had started to rain while we were there, but once at Terry & Teresa’s house, the guys made the decision to continue with their plans.  Teresa, Dana and I spent time visiting, then walked into town to show Dana the square.  She wanted to support the locals, so bought a few things at each of the small stores.  Then we walked on to the main beach area and had lunch.  When we finally made it back to Teresa’s house, the guys had just returned.  We said our goodbyes to them, then went back to Sam’s for a little more visiting.  I had taught Mike & Dana our “31” card game, which Sam loves to play.  So we played a few rounds with him, before walking back home on the beach.  When we got home that evening, Dana’s pedometer watch said we’d walked 20,000 steps – that’s 10 miles!

DAY 5 – This day was another early start, as we caught the first bus to Manta, where my friend Edwin then put on his tour guide hat for us.  We started the morning at my favorite coffee/breakfast spot, Dulce y Cremosa.  Then Edwin drove us around Manta, showing them the various places I’d requested they see.  This included my usual shopping area, a drive through the earthquake demolished tarqui section, the port and ship building area, and a stop at my SuperMaxi grocery store, so they could see what that is like.

Then we headed on to the town of Montecrisit, which among other things, is the birthplace of one of the most famous and influential presidents of Ecuador, Eloy Alfaro.  It is also the place where the famous “Panama” hat is actually made.  I had been to the museums several times and understand more each visit, but it was great to have Edwin explaining the history in English.

After the museums, Edwin dropped us at the church and went on his way.  We walked through the town, shopping at the various artesian markets (and of course, Mike bought a hat).  Then we caught a bus back to Manta and did some more shopping in the newly built and relocated tarqui (where in one section, all the stores are made from railroad car containers!).  Finally, we went to one of my favorite nice restaurants for dinner.  Edwin and his wife and youngest daughter then picked us up and taxied us back to Puerto Cayo.

Stay tuned for the final post, with more of our travel adventures, including Carnaval, and lots of pictures!

Quito Is Neato! – Part 2

This blog post picks up where my last one left off…

DAY 3:  This was the day of the engagement party and since it was an outside venue, based on the previous two days’ weather, we were obviously concerned it would be a wet, cold, muddy mess.  But thankfully the light drizzle ended about mid-morning, and by the time of the party (1:30 p.m.), the sun was out and everything was dry and pleasant.  I spent the morning resting, catching up on emails and enjoying some leisure time at my bed & breakfast.  My taxi driver picked me up and took me the short distance to the home where the party was being held.  Maria had been telling me about all the planning and work that had gone into it, so I knew it would be quite the event.

Richie and Camille actually have a rather unique love story – it began in second grade!  Their families were both living in Minnesota, and Richie had a huge crush on a little blond girl in his class.  Richie’s family knew all about Camille because in his words, “All my memories of my second grade experience were related to my interactions with her.”  In contrast, Camille barely took notice of Richie.  When he was in fourth grade, Richie’s family moved to Georgia and that was the end of prospects for the romance, or so everyone thought.  But in tenth grade, Richie discovered Facebook and found Camille on it.  He messaged her and asked if she remembered him from second grade.  She had absolutely no recollection of him and in her words, wondered if he was one of those “creepy internet guys her grandmother had warned her about.”  But Richie told her to check her yearbook and was able to convince Camille he really was her classmate.  He also told her about a note he’d written to her back then, telling her he liked her.  One thing led to another and their chatting turned into a romance.  They went through the rest of high school and college living in their respective states and visiting occasionally.  It was a long distance relationship for 5.5 years!  Finally, Camille entered graduate school in Alabama and they were within driving distance of each other (2.5 hours).  Then Richie graduated and moved to Alabama and they were together in the same town for the first time, but it was short lived – he was offered a job back in Minnesota!  Camille finally graduated with her masters degree and immediately returned to Minnesota.  So after 8 long years of mostly long distance dating, they are finally engaged and planning a life together.  Oh yes, and that note Richie told Camille he wrote to her?  Some time later her mother found it in a scrapbook of her school papers!

Scrumptious lunch

Scrumptious lunch – there was nothing left on my plate!

After Maria and Ivan welcomed the guests, Richie told their story for the crowd of around 200 – in Spanish.  All the while, we were served lots of appetizers and then a huge lunch of typical Ecuadorian fare.  As lunch was being served, Richie, who is quite the singer, regaled us with some Frank Sinatra tunes.  Below is a short video of one of them:

After lunch, a duet of singers took the floor and sang a variety of songs, including what was obviously Latin American oldies.  As I’ve said before, Latin Americans love to dance!  Here is a clip of the happy dance crowd:

Maria’s aunt was “leaving early” and graciously offered to drive me back to my bed & breakfast.  At that point I’d been at the party 4.5 hours, but when I left it was still going strong!

DAY 4:  There had been some discussion of trying to go back and visit Cotacochi and Cuicocha this day, but in the end the decision was made to tour Quito.  Richie and Camille, along with the other cousins, were all flying home late that night, so it seemed best not to attempt the 5 hour round trip drive again.  After a leisurely breakfast time, they picked me up and I checked out of Casa Magnolia.  I had booked another Airbnb more in the heart of Quito for my last few nights on my own.

We started our tour at TelefériQo, which is a cable gondola ride up Pichincha volcano.   Here you go from over 10,000 feet to nearly 13,500 feet in about 20 minutes.  We were told to drink lots of water and eat sugar to combat the possibility of altitude issues.  It is something to take seriously – a girl from another group fainted while we were waiting in line to board the ride!  I hate it when I’m prescribed to eat sugar. 😉

Maria stayed behind with her aunt and cousin, because she’d been up there before.  Ivan, Richie, Camille, Nick and I rode up together, and Maria shot this video of our ascent:

Once up top, it was much cooler and there was a definite change in the flora and fauna.  The view of Quito was spectacular:

While up there, we ran into a man playing indigenous music.  I was thrilled to see him, because some time ago I had heard him, along with another man, playing at the cruise ship tents in Manta.  I almost bought one of their CDs then, but didn’t, and I’d regretted it ever since.  The man had several instruments for sale, and Ivan ended up buying the man’s most prized one.  He told us the story about how the instrument was recently made from a long ago cut and dried piece of bamboo, and then played one final tune on it for us, before relinquishing it (for a sizable amount of cash) to Ivan:

Afterwards, we headed to the historic area of Quito.  Here we visited Plaza Grande, which is the main park/square at the heart of the city.  A busy area any day of the week, but even more so on Sunday, the Presidential Palace sits on one side of the square.  I marveled at the fact that one could walk or drive on the street literally right in front of it – a far cry from the White House!

Not far off the square, we visited La Compañia de Jesus.  This church was begun in 1605 and took 160 years to complete.  Easily the most ornate church in Ecuador, the entire inside is covered in gold leaf!  Photos were not allowed inside, but I did get a picture of one of the entrance doors with a peek (see Wikipedia link for inside photos).

From there, we headed for a lovely lunch spot right off the square, where we indulged in various traditional Ecuadorian foods.  I enjoyed “Locro de Papa,” which is a cheesy potato soup with onions, garlic and cilantro and served with sliced avocado.  This dish is popular in the Andes area, but not the coastal area where I live.  I loved it!

Following lunch, we made our way up to another lookout spot called El Panecillo.  Here, there is a statue of “La Virgen de Quito,” which is actually based on Revelation 12:1-6 and 12:13-16.  She wears a crown of twelve stars, has wings and is standing on a chained dragon atop of the world.  A placard reads, “The body of the Virgin Mary over the devil and the world as a sign of good conquering evil.”  You can climb up inside the statue, where there is a museum showing pictures of its construction, as well as some miniature replicas of many of the churches in the city.

Ivan learning the right technique to play his new instrument

Ivan learning the right technique to play his new instrument

Our biggest surprise there was finding the second of the indigenous musician duo.  It turns out that this man was the son of the other one and the maker of the instrument Ivan bought!  Here is a picture of him instructing Ivan on how to play his new instrument.

After all of this touring, we stopped off to see Ivan’s brother and enjoy a beverage at the coffee shop he owns.  Then they dropped me off at my new Airbnb, and we all bid each other goodbye until their next visit to Ecuador.

Stay tuned for Part 3, and the rest of my exploration of Quito, including “The Middle of the World”…