Farewell Pablo

Pablo shortly after he first came to us in 2016

Yes, I know that I am woefully behind in my blogging.  Thank you to those who have checked in to see if I’m still here.  I have been meaning to post a general update for several weeks now, but that will have to wait, because this blog takes precedence.

A few weeks ago on the beach

I, along with many of my friends and nearby neighbors, are grieving the loss of our sweet friend, Pablo.  As you can probably tell by the photo, Pablo was a dog.  But he wasn’t just any dog – everyone agrees that Pablo was very special.

Pablo lived at the former hotel/restaurant next door.  I still remember when he first showed up a little over two years ago.  He was abandoned by some people and the first chef from the U.S. wanted to keep him.  He was still a young dog, maybe 6-8 months old, and he quickly captured our hearts.  Back then we all gathered regularly to eat and drink at the restaurant/bar, and Pablo was a staple there.  He became everybody’s dog and we were his people.  When the chef left a short time later (following the earthquake), the hotel owner didn’t want to keep Pablo and asked my neighbor, Lisa, to take him.  She did initially, but Pablo just kept jumping over her wall and going back next door.  Shortly after, the next chef couple arrived and they too fell in love with Pablo.  They begged the owner to let them keep him and began feeding and training him, as well as getting his shots and sterilization taken care of.  When they left about six months later, there would be no moving Pablo by then – that was his domain.

During that time, Pablo and I began a fairly regular beach walking routine.  Eventually, I started to carry dog biscuits in my bag, and we had our familiar routine of him bounding towards me to get his treats before we started on our walk.  Some mornings he didn’t come out until I was returning, but he always got his “cookies” no matter what.  Sometimes we’d play fetch the stick, but what he really loved most was chasing birds (and sometimes crabs).

But what was unique about Pablo was his personality.  He was a super special dog indeed. The truth is, he’d walk with anyone he saw going that direction.  He was a friend to all.  All our volunteer workers instantly fell in love with him.  Everyone loved Pablo.  He was always happy, always friendly, always joyful and full of mischief and life.  He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  Everyone adopted him into their life in some way.  Our newest residents that moved here full-time a few months ago have four dogs, but had still welcomed Pablo by feeding him and letting him inside to hang out and play with their dogs. They even paid for the final vet bill for him.

I used to always say he reminded me of me, because when we were on the beach, if we saw a person or another dog, he ran straight towards them, tail in the air, looking forward to making a new friend.  It was always interesting to watch the reactions both of people and other dogs.  Some were afraid of him, and he’d always look puzzled as to why they didn’t understand that he just wanted to make friends and play.  Some were even hostile towards him, and he couldn’t understand that either.  It was fun to watch those people and dogs who finally realized how sweet natured he was, and they began to warm up and play with him.

Our development was part of his home and he’d wander around and through here daily.  A funny story from several weeks ago: I left my gate open all day one day because workers were at my house finishing work up on my deck. My friend/contactor, Luis, came back after lunch and said there was a dog in my yard.  I knew it was Pablo, and sure enough he came to my back screen door and peered in for several minutes while I was on a work call. Then he walked away, and I thought nothing more of it.  I was still sitting at my table (back to my front door) talking away and looked down and suddenly Pablo was standing beside me in the middle of my living room!  A worker had walked outside briefly to get something and left the door open and Pablo just let himself in.  I grabbed him by the collar and led him right back out, talking on a call the whole time.  Good thing Charcoal was hiding in the laundry room because of all the activity!

Earlier this week in the afternoon, the hotel owner came out of his room to find Pablo acting out of his head.  He’d been fine earlier that day and they suspected he’d been poisoned.  They brought him here to some of my neighbors, who tried to give him something to make him vomit.  Finally, they called the vet in Jipijapa (30 minutes away) and rushed him there, but it was too late to save him.  The next day, another ex-pat friend’s dog was also poisoned, but they were able to treat it and it is recovering.  However we learned yesterday that sadly, it’s some level of government putting out poison to kill stray dogs.  Whether that is local or national government I don’t know.  My friend/contractor Luis said there were 3 dead strays by his house.  But sadly, there are going to be a lot of “unintended” victims as well. 😔  I truly do understand the problem of the strays, and it’s heartbreaking to see them live a suffering life, but when my neighbors described to me how Pablo was suffering from that poison, it’s devastating. 😖

It has been super sad walking by the hotel the past few mornings and realizing I would never again see Pablo come out stretching from having just woken up, and then come bounding towards me looking for his cookies. Or missing him when I stopped to do my stretches and he’d come over from his wanderings and lay down beside me while I did my routine.  Just in the past few weeks we had some very memorable moments together.  One morning I was off work, so was taking my time and running a little later than usual leaving for my walk.  As I was fixing Charcoal’s breakfast, I heard a single bark and realized it was very close by.  I opened my front door to see Pablo laying outside my gate and looking at me like, “Come on, you’re late!”

In fact, I had already thought about writing a blog post about Pablo, because in some ways he was like my little angel companion and protector.  Although generally friendly towards all, there were a few times lately when he let a pack of dogs or a person jogging know that they’d better not have any ill intent towards me, or they’d have to contend with him.  I remember one sweet exchange just the other day, when I cupped his face in my hands, put my face close to his, looked straight into his eyes and told him what a special dog he was.  And his eyes answered back that he knew exactly what I was saying to him.

Ownership of Pablo was really a group effort and everyone around here had their own special bond with him.  As my good friend Fatima says, “There will never be another dog like Pablo” – he’ll be hugely missed. 😢

Overwhelmed!

Well, I just returned a few days ago from a month long, coast-to-coast U.S. visit – my first since I moved to Ecuador over four years ago!  It was an amazing time of re-connecting with so many friends and family (including a first time meeting with three of my five siblings from my birthfather).  Overwhelmed is the best word I know to describe the love and generosity I experienced everywhere I went!  I want to thank you all so much for the visits, home stays, rides, meals (bought and prepared) and gifts.  I truly enjoyed every non-stop moment of catching up with so many of you.  It amazed me how despite the years that have passed since we last saw each other, we could just pick right back up where we left off.  For those I wasn’t able to connect with, I’m so sorry, but it was amazing how even traveling a full month did not allow me enough time to work everyone in.  Hopefully, if I get another chance to return, I can see you next time (or you can come see me first!)

Sue & Rick, my amazing sitters from Canada. They took great care of my house and Charcoal and all my friends here loved spending time with them.

I just wanted to say again how grateful I am to all of you I was able to see, and how grateful I am to God for answering all my prayers surrounding this trip.  He gave me the perfect house/pet sitters, smooth and healthy travel, and many other providential things as well.

I have lots of reflections from my visit and hopefully will be able to process through and put some of them down in future blog posts soon.  My trip was awesome all the way around, but it’s wonderful to hear the ocean again, and I do have to say that walking barefoot on the beach beats mall walking in boots any day of the week! 😉

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):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.