A love story only God could have written

You know those movies and books where the woman (always a woman) goes on vacation, meets a man, and has the most romantic experience of her life? I’m a sucker for these stories. They are an escape. A hope. A dream. They just don’t happen to real people.

But this time it was real. The wild romantic vacation love story was true. And. It. Was. Happening. To. Me.

Kim and I decided on a brief trip to the beach for our Christmas break. She had been dying for a little time in the water and I wanted a lazy refreshing holiday. Canoa is a quiet fishing village that probably sleeps more visitors than locals.

We arrived on the night bus early on Christmas Eve morning. After sleeping a couple hours it was off to the water. While eating lunch on the patio of a beachfront restaurant we noticed two men two gorgeous men walking by. Kim had her eye on one. I had my eye on the other. And he had his eye on me. They kept walking but I did not forget him. Later, when Kim and I were looking for somewhere to eat dinner I saw him again. The same beautiful long-haired man I was captivated with at lunch.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach when he stopped us and we started talking, but the longer the conversation went on the more he was talking to Kim! I tuned out and later found out he was only talking to her to try and sell his friend to her so he could spend time with me.

After dinner, we, the long-haired man, two of his friends, Kim, and I had a bonfire on the beach where we talked, sang, and generally had a good time.

Catching a man’s eye and having a nighttime bonfire on the beach is romance enough, but that’s not where the story ends. The best is yet to come.

The next morning, Kim and I were having coffee at our hostel and in through the door comes him. William. He woke thinking, “Stephanie. Where did she say she is staying?” Obviously, he remembered and we spent another two romantic days together walking the beach and talking. He completely ignored his buddies and didn’t work at all because, as he says, love is more important than work.

This was great. It was a true travel romance. Girl goes to a foreign beach to get away and relax and meets a gorgeous non-English speaking man and they spend all of their waking hours together. We exchanged contact information before I left, but I did not expect anything to go any further.

Several days passed without hearing from him. Then, an email. And another. Soon, we were writing every day and calling frequently. A couple weeks later, he visited me in Quito. About a month after that, he was moving to Quito.

Keeping with the romance movie theme and with the Latin lover motif, William and I have certainly have had a fiery relationship. We’ve broken up. We’ve gotten back together. And I’ve kept him at a distance most of the way through. As much as I wanted to fall in love, as much as I dreamed of marriage and family, I dreamed of a certain type of man and future. William didn’t fit into that type.

Nearing our six month anniversary I decided to move back to California. At the same time, I was distancing myself from William…again. I would have left Ecuador permanently without much communication with him had it not been for the accident.

I used to joke that God would have to rent a neon sign with a great big arrow and the words, “This is the one” to show me who He wants me to marry. When the sign finally came, it wasn’t powered by neon gas but by blood.

A couple Fridays ago, I was in a van with several coworkers headed to Mindo for the weekend when I got a phone call. It was Vero, a mutual friend of William and me. William had been in an accident. He was bloodied, stitched together, and couldn’t remember where he lived. All he remembered was my name and that he wanted me.

Vero ended up putting him in a hotel for the night and I took the first bus home the next morning. The accident left him with a concussion so I had him stay with me for the weekend.  After some food and medicine, we went for a walk and sat in the park for a while. While watching the skateboarders we talked. About everything.

When I admitted that I wasn’t just visiting California he barely paused for thought before replying, “I will go with you.” I hadn’t expected that.

The more we spoke, the more clear it became what was in our future. Before, we had spoken of marriage but I was never serious about it. There were too many legitimate issues in the way for me to seriously consider it. But this time was different. All of my previous concerns were no longer there and that was it. There was no official proposal just a truly God-powered conversation.

Because of William’s accident my eyes were opened to how much he loves me. Because my eyes were opened I was able to let go of my false image of the right man and love the man God had put in front of me for the previous six months.

And… the best is still yet to come…

Willam made sure we went to church the next morning. He is always good about that. For weeks prior, the church had been advertising a special evangelical presentation called “Windows on Eternity,” but with all of the action of the previous two days I forgot it was a special service. We watched the movie/live action performance, the pastor talked, and William turned  to me and says, “I want to change.”

We talked a little longer and he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and I proceeded to bawl my eyes out.

“Why are you sad? Why are you crying?”

“I’m not sad, I’m happy. Now, I have everything I’ve been praying for.”

Later, when I told my parents of our plans for marriage, Mom reminded me of something she told me before I left for Quito, “Debbie and I had a feeling you would meet the man you would marry in Ecuador.”

It wasn’t a feeling, Mom. That was God.

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Otavalo

This weekend I had the opportunity to explore a city I’ve previously visited, but only briefly. Otavalo is a very well-known and popular town only a two-hour bus ride north of Quito. As with just about every city in the Andes region of Ecuador, Otavalo has its own patron volcano. Not a patron really, it is just hard to live in the Andes and not be neighbors with at least one volcano. Otavalo is neighbors with Imbabura.

Though Semana Santa is next weekend and I actually get (a tiny bit of) time off work, I really wanted to get out of town this weekend. William is always up for travel of any sort so we decided to go to Otavalo and see where the weekend took us.

Arriving after dark Friday night, William asked if I cared where we slept.  I have very minimal requirements so we settled into the first place we found. Our room overlooked the street which meant it was slightly more quiet than those on the plaza, but only for a few hours. Friday night for Quitenos is the main party time, it was pretty happening in Otavalo as well. Food vendors set up shop at night in the plaza and a deejay plays upbeat music.

An acceptable meal of seco de pollo (William ate my pollo of course), a simple soup, and juice was served to us on chipped floral dishes at cramped tables for just $1.50 per person. A typical almuerzo (set meal) in this area includes soup, juice, meat, rice, and a vegetable. If you’re lucky you can get dessert as well. You can find almuerzos for $1.50 in Quito, but the typical price is more like $2.50-3.50. My school serves good quality almuerzos including dessert for less than $2.50.

After dinner, we walked around and happened upon a mini carnival. Ever wonder what happens to all those carnival rides and playground equipment The Man deems too unsafe for US children? Apparently they get shipped overseas. The rides here were so decrepit I truly feared for the lives of the riders. Considering that the price per ride per person was costlier than our dinners, we decided not to ride anything.

We danced in the plaza instead.

Otavalo is world renown for one thing only. Saturday market. While William and I were spared some of the Friday night noise,

source: www.carpedm.ca

we certainly were not spared the Saturday morning set up noise. Metal poles were dragged through the streets and thrown down on the ground before being set up into canopies. Friends caught up on the local gossip as they laid out there wares. All starting at 5 am. Good thing we hadn’t been drinking Friday night.

I don’t think I have ever spent any significant amount of time with William where we haven’t run into a friend or two of his. He’s a yacker. He’ll talk to anyone and can carry on a conversation for hours. He’s been a traveling artesan and musician for ten years too so he knows lots of people from all over. Otavalo was no different. Not one block from our hostal was Diego. Diego was setting up shop (on his birthday) when we happened upon him Saturday morning. A few minute’s chat with him was all I needed to know that we were going to hang out with him the rest of the day.

Diego makes jewelry from various natural materials like coconut shells and some nut I can’t remember the name of. He has

Diego's family and me

traveled all over Ecuador and Colombia selling his wares, but has finally settled in Otavalo for the sake of his two boys ages 12 and 8. I sat on the ground for hours chatting with him and learning his sales style. Basically, he keeps people talking long enough for them to get a good look at his jewelry and steers the conversation toward what the potential customers are going to buy.

One passerby was a brawny redhead from Poland. Diego may have stopped him, but (apparently) I was the one who kept him there. He had no interest in what Diego had to say. He chatted me up for a couple minutes and invited me for a drink. William was happily drumming away so I accepted. The Pollack whose name escapes me was in Ecuador as a geologist and very sadly told me he has never been to the US, the home of the “world’s greatest motorcycle.”  He moved on soon enough after he remembered his very patient friend was waiting for him.

For awhile now, William has been trying to sell his tall djembe (kind of like a natural wooden bongo). It is too big to carry around all the time and it gets in the way on crowded public transport. He finally found a sucker buyer in Otavalo. Though he really wanted and needed to sell it, it was hard on him when the time finally came. He played his final song, passed along his “otra mujer” (other woman) to her new owner and wisely gave the money to his girlfriend for safekeeping.

La otra mujer

Saturday evening was spent with Diego’s family and other friends singing around a campfire, learning about each other’s lives and future dreams, and trying not to fall into the huge holes in our friend’s front yard.

The hostal that night was freezing, but the Sunday morning sun blazing. I barely lasted through breakfast before changing clothes. We passed that morning walking through town, observing a Palm Sunday parade, and chatting with friends.

Most people only visit Otavalo for the day. They come up from Quito early Saturday morning, spend their money, and go back to their hotels. It is a charming town that deserves more attention from travelers. Take some time to talk to the vendors, don’t just buy their stuff; your visit may just turn out to be something even greater than anticipated.

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Spanish class

Things I wish I had learned in Spanish class, educator edition:

  • If you need to fart, please go to the bathroom.
  • I don’t want your boogers. Go get a tissue.
  • Was rub your friend’s back in the directions?
  • No, you may not see the tarantula.
  • Use your inside voice.
  • If you can explain to me how Captain Underpants books demonstrate even one of our school’s values then I might consider them as a read aloud.
  • Wrestling is not an approved library activity.
  • No, second grader, you may not use your credit card to pay at the book fair.
  • No, there is not a scorpion in the library stacks.

And, finally…

  • The library is a reading space, a working space, a place to hang out, a place for creativity and collaboration. It is not a place of silence.
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GOOOOOOAAAALLLL!

Soccer/futbol is a way of life for much of the world outside of North America. The slogan for one of the popular teams in Ecuador is “Amarillo por siempre” (yellow forever). Last Saturday, my roommate and I were invited to go with a few friends to a Deportivo (Quito) vs. Barcelona (Guayaquil) game right around the corner from my house.

Patrick and Rebecca went down early to buy tickets and we joined them at 6 thinking that would be plenty of time to get inside by the 7pm kick off. Point blank– we were all wrong. Patrick and Rebecca were in line to go through gate 8. The line was so long that they were past gate 12…and there were hundreds more behind them. Some other friends walked by and chatted with us while trying to decide whether or not to buy tickets. Though the scalpers were plentiful and reasonably priced they decided to go home. I’ve never bought tickets from a US scalper, but I’m sure the mark up is grand. We paid $10 for our tickets from the official vendor. The scalpers were charging $11.50 or $12.

So, we’re in line. We’re in line. We’re in line. Nothing fascinating was happening other than listening to team songs from a vendor’s radio and hearing the cheering and jeering from inside the stadium. It wasn’t just cheering though, we could see smoke plumes, odd flashing of lights, men precariously perched on scaffolding high atop the highest cement point of the stadium rim hanging yellow and blue banners.

We were about 100 yards from the entrance gate when a group of 10 police in riot gear came and huge cheers erupted from inside. The line both ahead of us and behind went nuts. Apparently it was kick off time. Men were climbing the wall to yell through the barred openings at the ticket takers and police. Chants for each team were wildly screamed. Everything short of actually charging the gate or becoming violent. Did I mention that Deportivo and Barcelona are great rivals?

When we finally made it up to the ticket takers and to the police who were patting us down to make sure we didn’t have anything dangerous I had my second thing stolen from me so far in Ecuador. I guess belts can be considered dangerous items because there was a growing pile of them just inside the gate and my officer made me remove mine.

“No,” I said, “I’m not going to just give away my belt.”

“You will get it back. We will guard it.”

I didn’t say this next part, I didn’t want to be arrested, “Yeah, you’ll guard it. You’ll guard it right on back to your house or to the highest bidder’s waist.”  Pissed off, I followed directions and went into the stadium with the rest of my beltless group. Fast forward to the end of the game… we went back to the belt pile after being forced to wait for the yellow team’s fans to leave first and all there was left were broken, cheap, buckleless belts. One guard had the audacity to tell me to just take one. He got an earful from me as a young child made off with two handfuls to sell on the street.  By the by, the first stolen item was my other belt. It mysteriously disappeared in the hotel the new teachers stayed at the first week in Quito.

So, we’re inside now, beer in hands, and discover we have second row seats with no one in front of us. Pretty good. To the left, the south goal end are the Barcelona fans. It’s a sea of yellow. Not a single fan is without a jersey. Banners wave gently from the scaffolding overhead and fireworks and road flares burn bright as the crowd sings their team song. No, I am not at a loss for seeing the irony of my having to remove my belt, while they are allowed to have fireworks and road flares.

Between the Barcelona section and ours is a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. As we found out later, there is good reason for this. In addition to this barrier there is also a moat completely surrounding the field. No, it’s not filled with water, but it is at least 10 feet deep and 6 feet wide. As if that wasn’t enough to deter fans from running onto the field, a 20-30 foot tall chain link fence surrounded it. An acquaintance saw us and came down to chat. He said that as people get more drunk and/or at the end of the game, people will jump onto the fence and climb it. We saw only two people doing that after the game was over.

The previous extent of my soccer experience is limited to one season when I was 6 years old where I was more interested in the bugs on the field (how we placed third in the league is beyond me. There must have been only three teams.) than the game so it was great sitting next to Patrick who could explain what was going on. There are two 45-minute halves with a running clock and a 20 minute half time. So, while a given player gets mildly injured and milks it for 3-5 minutes, the clock keeps running. But the clock is not shown. I looked all around the stadium and they don’t have a timer. We decided that it must be to keep the fans slightly more calm.

When the whistles were blown for half time we simultaneously scooted forward on our concrete benches in expectation of the show. What would it be? This was a regular game not a final, but it was between two rivals. As the team tunnels were blown up so they could exit, a huge blow-up bottle of Pepsi was rolled onto center field and anchors pounded into the ground. We waited and waited. That was it. The crowd didn’t care though. They were too busy singing along the Deportivo song to the beat of a huge bass drum with neon lights some fan brought.

After looking at my watch I knew that it was getting close to the end of the game. No one had scored yet so I asked Patrick about overtime. In this type of game they don’t do overtime. They consider it a draw and each team gets one league point. About five minutes before the final buzzer though, Deportivo made a goal. Those watching on TV most likely heard the announcer scream out, “GOOOOOOOAAAALL!” Those inside the stadium felt the concrete vibrate with the pounding of feet, heard the crowd screaming the fight song at the top of their lungs along with quite a few B-words (p-word in Spanish) aimed at the opposing team and fans, and watched the father next to me grab his 7 year old son, pick him up and plant a fat kiss on his cheek.

The father, son, and mother was probably the most entertaining part of the game. The boy was more interested in gathering the cash register tape that people threw like streamers, tearing it in pieces and throwing it up in the air than he was in the game. The mom never once sat down, preferring to sing, jump, cheer, and jeer on her feet. The dad was perfectly calm throughout the game until the goal when he went crazy.

Remember the barbed wire fence that separates the two fan groups? After the game finished, Barcelona wasn’t very happy and there was a lot of crotch grabbing directed at our group, yelling, spitting, and bottles of urine, yes urine, being thrown over the fence. Police geared up in riot wear left Barcelona alone, but pushed the fans on our side away from the border. Barcelona fans are crazy and forced out the police earlier in the game so they pretty much are left alone to do as they please. They could probably rape, pillage, and destroy and nothing would happen to them. Yes, I am being serious.

Soccer isn’t as boring as I used to think it was. The excitement in the air from the fans and having an educated fan nearby helped a lot. I will definitely be back for more. Next time though, I will let my pants sag.

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Catching up

I know I’ve been a blogging slacker for the past couple months. I really have been active, it’s just that so many things hit all at once- work projects, break ups, culture shock, festivals- that I just never got around to, and didn’t quite feel like, writing it all down at the time.
Instead of a ridiculously long post, here are some of the highlights of the last couple months of my journey here in Quito…

Mama Negra (Black Mom)
The city of Latacunga has two Mama Negra festivals. I went to the second one with my boss and a few others. The hours-long parade features several groups performing traditional dances and music, gallons of alcohol drunk from the same bottle (parading people pass it out to the onlookers), men dressed as women, and the special guests- men dressed up as an angel, two devils, and mama negra herself. The celebration is a mix of indigenous, Catholic, and other traditions.

Men use animal skulls and sage to cleanse the spirit of a woman from the crowd.

It was super fun, but it was by far the longest parade I have ever encountered.

Culture shock
Culture shock isn’t just “I can’t believe people do that!” It is also the way one reacts to the change of lifestyle and scenery. As I learned in China, my response to the change is depression. I did not expect things to be as bad this time around though because I have lived overseas before and this time I can actually communicate with people, but communication does not equal companionship and the lack of meaningful companionship with like-minded individuals is what really takes its toll. I knew it would come on eventually, but I didn’t expect other (unwelcome) surprises to happen in conjunction to make things more difficult.
Things are getting better though.

Fiestas de Quito
One of the main streets that runs the length of the city is called 6 de diciembre (December 6). This is the founding date for the city of Quito. From what I understand, the celebrations keep getting bigger and bigger each year and it is a time when many like to escape the city.
The powers that be held a five day celebration in the park across the street from my house (aren’t I lucky) including musicians (I would have done a better job as a sound engineer), dancing, and tons of food. The parties lasted well into the wee hours each day even though everyone in the city had to work most of the week. Quitenos like to party.
The third graders in our school put on a wonderful dance presentation depicting the history of Quito from its indigenous days through modern era. It was greatly disturbing though when as the Incas were bowing in defeat to the Spanish that the crowd start cheering with joy.
As is usual for me in my student presentations, I cried the whole way through.

Christmas
I was blessed to get 10 paid days off work for Christmas this year. The roomie and I decided to go to Canoa for a few days. Canoa is a tiny beach town in southwest Ecuador. We had a great time walking on the beach, meeting new people, trying not to get burned, and eating all the seafood.

A dog was watching the sun go down.

We also got to go to Isla Corazon (heart island), a local island made completely out of mangroves. At one time there were acres upon acres of mangroves, but because of the shrimp farming, much of the mangroves have been torn out and the estuary is suffering. The cooperative that we went through is working to save the remaining mangroves and replant to rehabilitate the waters and bring back the fauna. We saw bright red crabs, huge termite hives, frigates, ibises, and other birds I don’t know the English name for.

New Year Eve
NYE was the first day all 3 of my regular girlfriends and I were back in town. We planned to go to the Mariscal (local night life area) to celebrate. I don’t know if there was a single Ecuadorian there apart from the employees.

Kim C jumping the fire for good luck.

Part of the NYE tradition is to buy or make dummies and burn them after midnight. The dummies symbolize the end of the year and anything negative that happened. Some also write names or things they wish to leave behind and burn those as well. It is considered good luck to jump over the fire.

Happy new year all. May this year be full of God’s blessings and great happiness. It’s not really a new year resolution for me, more of an area God has told me to work on, but I am going to work on being more of a positive person. I hate how I have let many of life’s disappointments turn me into such a Negative Nelly. God bless you.

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Christmas

In a country far, far away…

Mom and Dad, click the link above to see your Christmas present. Love, Stephanie

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I’m just too nice.

I’ve written here before about Ecuadorian men and how they tend to like certain attributes I possess, but today brought things to a whole new (awkward) level. The usual attention comes in immature forms: ogling, whistling, or marriage proposals. I can laugh those off because I know thy come from immaturity, not a real sense of danger. It’s when things get physical that I would feel uncomfortable.

Three weeks ago,  I met an older (than me) Ecuadorian man at church. We’ll call him Ignacio. We happened to sit in the same row so we struck up a conversation. He’s learning English so he asked about some of the words and phrases in the songs we had just sung. Ecuadorians are nice people and generally like to be helpful. Relationships are also very important- much more so than in the States.

We had only been chatting a few minutes when Ignacio mentioned that he wanted to take me (because he has a car) to Papallacta, or to the beach, or anywhere. Before you get totally freaked out, let me tell you that I am pretty positive that he was saying this in an innocent, albeit inappropriate, manner- he wanted to show off his country to the pretty new foreigner. I politely declined saying that I already had travel plans for the upcoming weekend.

Still, he tried to get me to have lunch or “even just” coffee, but I slipped away with the excuse of having lunch plans with friends.

I’m polite, so I’ll talk to anyone and that is what usually gets me in trouble more often than not. I need to learn how to get out of the weird situations before they turn weirder.

So, some time passes and this morning I decide to sleep in and go to second service instead of first. I’m standing out front of the building when the doors open and who just happens to be one of the first people out the door but Ignacio. I’m not the most inconspicuous dresser so of course, the first thing he sees is me.

We start chatting, which I’m fine with because he went to first service so he’s going to go home after we finish our conversation, or so I assume. A third person joins our conversation and Ignacio mentions that he came late for the first service so he’s going to stay in second to catch what he missed.

No, he didn’t leave part way though. He stayed, sitting next to me, interrupting my opportunity to worship in peace by asking me questions. In the English Bible it says this, but it Spanish it says that. Which is correct do you think? What does this word mean? You have … Are you ok? Before service had even ended he was badgering me about my afternoon plans. The last time we met I gave him a line just to get away; this time the line didn’t work.

Please, Stephanie, there is my car. I will show you South Quito and take you to lunch. Blah, blah, blah. Push, push, push. I might have gone with him willingly had he not been so whiny and pushy. So, I did end up going with him- begrudgingly- and had on of the oddest experiences.

I think he assumed that I never leave my house other than to work because as we drove he pointed out every little thing until we finally ended up in some hole in the wall dive. It’s the type of place that serves only set lunches with the only options being which of two juices and two meats you want.

He didn’t know this, but I don’t eat meat.  I will try it, but I won’t eat it. I don’t like meat and meat doesn’t like me. Being the pushy man that he is, he kept asking, But why you don’t eat meat? It’s good for you. You can have a little. Why, yes, I could eat meat, but then I would be in pain and have no energy the rest of the day.

After a disappointing, for him, lunch Ignacio decided to drive me around South Quito. To give you a mental picture, allow me to describe the situation. I am a blonde foreigner dressed in nicer brightly colored clothes and South Quito is comparable to the nicer (but still slightly dangerous) parts of Tijuana. Now, I would not consider myself as one who thinks more highly of myself than those with less money, but I would prefer to be dressed appropriately when being taken to an area such as this. Never before have I been so glad to have car door locks.

Ignacio drives here and there and tells me all the names of each neighborhood. Finally, we drive down a street with lots of shops and he points out all the different things I can buy in each shop. As we got to the middle of the street he mentions that his sister lives in this neighborhood. That’s when I started praying. It would be extremely rude to his sister to be in the area and not stop in especially since she just had surgery. Please God, no. Have mercy on me.

God did have mercy on me. After knocking and speaking to two family members on the phone it was determined that the sister was not home and no one knew where she was. Hallelujah!

Off we went…again. Ignacio mentioned celebrating New Year’s Eve on his sister’s street and how much fun it is. You need to come with my family. Please come celebrate with us. I slightly got out of that invitation with a maybe, we’ll see.

Continue on, continue on and he covered the topics of how I pay way too much for rent, how beautiful I am, not so interesting places we pass, how beautiful I am (again), and do you know where we are? Never before had I thought being told I’m beautiful could be a bad thing. No, not bad, just awkward. How am I supposed to respond to that?

When at last we arrived at my building, Freedom! I thought, but no. He whips out his English  notebook and spends at least twenty minutes asking me questions. He watches American movies in Spanish with English subtitles and writes down new phrases and words which is a great way to learn. Seriously though I thought I would never get away.

It’s not that I am so opposed to meeting new people or befriending Ecuadorians, it’s just that I can’t stand pushy people. And pushy whiny men are the worst. Don’t beg. Ask. Then accept the answer and move on.

Oh, and I forgot to mention- he still wants to take me to Papallacta.

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Train of thought- Quilotoa

Friday

I’m sitting in a pale wood and window-filled room, swinging in a hammock and looking out on one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. Ecuador is absolutely beautiful.

As McKenzie stretches on the floor behind me I am thinking. I know, why can’t I just relax amidst such beauty? Stillness has always caused my mind to race. I have a hard time falling asleep, a hard time meditating, and, apparently, a hard time enjoying quiet beauty.

I get several weeks off work this summer and I’ve been thinking about what I want to do. Everything costs money of course and I don’t exactly make a lot.

I’m in Chugchilan for the weekend. Chugchilan is a tiny mountain village south of Quito. The Black Sheep Inn is a well known and well respected ecolodge above the rest of town. Well known? you ask. How can it be so well known? I’ve never even heard of an ecolodge. Well, maybe you just aren’t in the know on that topic. :)

Loo with a view

Ecolodges are inns, hotels, hostels, etc that do their best to be green in every aspect. Guests here are asked to save their tea bag wrappers to use as note paper. Rain water is collected and used for hand washing. Used hand washing water is then used to water plants. Composting toilets are used to turn human waste into fertilizer. I love the idea and I’ve always been drawn to the less wasteful side of life.

The Black Sheep has paid employees, but also utilizes volunteers to keep it running. This would be a fabulous place to spend the summer. But when would I go to the Galapagos?

Thursday

The city of Quito has something called Pico y Placa during morning and evening commute hours each weekday. Depending on the last digit on your car’s license plate, there is one day each week that you can’t drive during rush hour. Most Quitenos take taxis, public transport, or carpool on that one day.

Haley’s boyfriend offered to drive several of us up to Chugchilan this weekend. We were packed into the car and headed down the road within eyesight of the promised land (the freeway) when Iaian realized that today was his Pico y Placa day. Quickly, he threw the truck in reverse and backed the wrong way down the road and back to his and Haley’s apartment.

Because we were so close to the freeway, Iaian decided to call a tow truck to haul the truck one mile to the freeway. The tow didn’t show. Getting frustrated, Iaian went to talk to a police officer to see if there was any way around the rule. Those caught driving on their day face a large fine and a two day impound. The officer told Iaian of another route that is safe but quite roundabout. It worked and we were on our way.

Friday

In the 1970′s a Swiss development group came to this area. They created a cooperative and taught the locals how to make cheese in the Swiss style. We went up to the factory.

Factory is a generous word. There were two rooms. In the first, there is a huge covered vat where the milk is cooked with cultures. The whey is separated and molded then placed on a slanted table to dry out some. 400 liters of milk + 30 minutes of cooking = about 16 kilos of mozzarella.  The second room contains several racks for aging. The man giving the tour gave us samples of emmental, a hard Swiss cheese. That alone was worth the $1 entrance fee.

Saturday

I’m sitting at water’s edge at Laguna Quilotoa. Quilotoa is a volcanic crater  so the water is surrounded on all side by tall peaks. Looking across I can tell it’s large, but the mountain top is large too so it provides no scale.  And then I saw a tiny little two-person kayak away on the far side of the lake. This body of water is huge.

I read the first Percy Jackson book a few weeks ago. Some of the main characters are the well-known Greek gods of mythological lore. The Greek gods were distant beings, only interfering with the lives of humans on an as necessary basis. Like the boat so far away it would be difficult for a Greek god to come to the aid of an individual. The Greek gods were great and mighty in their own realms, but chose to do their own things for their own reasons. It would seem that they would only care about themselves.

How amazing it is to know a loving God who is closer than a friend.

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Weekend getaway

It’s Shannon’s birthday this week and our little group has been in Ecuador now for six weeks without leaving Quito. It was definitely time we high-tailed it on out of here. Quito is very centrally located so there are lots of weekend getaway options available to us, but Mindo was calling our names.

Mindo is a small village just a two hour bus ride away from Quito and situated in the cloud forest. Pretty much all of my coworkers- both locals and internationals-have been to Mindo at least once. One of our employees even owns an inn there (Shout out for the Dragonfly Inn). That’s where we stayed.

After missing the early bus because the tickets were sold out, we had a cultural experience at the bus station (including restrooms with a man sitting out front selling squares of toilet paper- only 15 cents gets you enough for two number one’s or one number two) and hopped on the next bus. We had heard that the buses here are really nice and though they are comfy they are nothing compared to bus travel in China. I can’t complain though when my ticket only cost $2.50.

So, we’re riding along and I’m looking out the window. Pretty soon we’re in Mitad del Mundo, Middle of the World. Mitad is a suburb of Quito and is one of the cities that has the equator running through it. Eventually I will visit there and explore.

As we traveled farther out of Quito the scenery started to change from brown and dry to green and lush mountainsides. The forest here is even more dense than the jungle I visited in Cambodia, if that is possible. Palm trees pop up over the canopy here and there and the rest of the trees are a mix of pine, gigantic figs, banana, and unknowns. Taking it all in we get excited for more of what is to come.

About half of the main drag. View from my hotel room balcony.

Upon arrival, we got out and greedily took in all the sights we could. The short main street was packed with restaurants, sundry shops, and a small produce stand. At one end was town square-a cute little park surrounded with street vendors- and at the

other end was the Dragonfly Inn.

The main attraction to Mindo are all the outdoor activities. We are still too early in rainy season to tube down the rivers without scraped bums so we opted for the mariposaria, butterfly garden. For $5 the heavily accented guide described the butterfly life cycle and let us hold the hugest caterpillar known to man. It was pretty gross looking and feeling. He then let us loose in the enclosed garden to enjoy the piped in classical music and the butterflies.

The hummingbird area outside of the enclosed garden was the best part. There was a covered porch with information about the various types of birds that live there and hammocks to hang out in. Shannon and I swayed lazily in our hammocks watching the birds while Roomie stood. It could only have been better had it been raining and we could sway while listening to the plink, plink, plink on the tin roof.

Sunday early morning was spent hiking. A couple passed us going downhill saying they had spotted a pair of toucans not too far above. Eagerly, we three and the stray dog who decided to guide us upped our pace. By the time we reached another birding group we found out we had just missed the treasured birds. Next time, I’ll pay for a bird guide.

After an uneventful but gorgeous two hour hike my knees were killing me so I hung out at the hotel while Roomie and Shannon headed out for the cascades. Reason number two for me to visit Mindo again.

While the other two

Butt-skin-eating rocks in the too-low-for-tubing river.

were about to head across a ravine in a cable car (cable cage is a more accurate translation) a 7.3 earthquake hit Colombia and Ecuador. In true Californian fashion, I barely budged from the couch I was sitting on on the third

floor of the hotel during the 30 second tremor and the young girl next to me merely commented that the power went out. No major damage or deaths were reported from the quake.

Mindo is an absolutely beautiful place and I look forward to the river levels rising so I can go tubing next time without skinning my behind. It is definitely worth the time and minor expense.

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The double decker bus

Yesterday, the roommate (Kim S), the other Kim (Kim C), and I took a double decker tour of the city. Generally, I do not like tours because of the rigidity and cost, but I agreed to go for the company.

We had seen the bus driving around, but it was the roomie who decided to find out more about it. As she was researching I was really reluctant, after all, I could pay 25 cents for the bus ride to the same places and read my travel guide to find out what I want to know, but she won me over.

I live in one of the most happening areas in Quito. The city is bordered to the east and west by volcanoes and mountains so the growing population has spread from Colonial Downtown first north and now south. My neighborhood is the downtown of north Quito and the starting point of yesterday’s tour.

The ticket booth is a cute mini red British-looking van. The man inside gave us tickets, a(nother) map, and a guide book listing tons of stuff to do in Quito this month. After nearly missing the bus because of a quick trip to the Spanish deli, we hopped on and I don’t remember a single thing the recording said.  No, I take that back…on the several hour trip I remember two things the recording explained. Two things that I already knew from reading a guide book.

Item 1

The man who built Iglesia de la Basilica supposedly made a deal with the devil (ironic, I know) to have enough resources and time to complete it. The story goes that the builder was to die and have some other negative consequences beforehand once the church was completed. The man purposely left out one brick so that the church would never be complete. To this day there is a missing brick- I looked for it but didn’t see it- because a cataclysmic event is supposed to happen if the church is finished.

I have never been to a Catholic church service. I had a friend in high school who was an altar boy and one day after school we stopped by St. Bernard’s and he walked me through what happens in mass. Though I do not agree with many of the Catholic beliefs, I would love to experience a traditional mass. Many modern evangelical churches have forgotten or purposely left behind so many of the traditions that serve great purpose with proper context and knowledge.

Item 2

From my laundry room window (the only window in my apartment with a view) one can see el Virgen de Panecillo. She is set upon a hill overlooking the city of Quito and protecting her from evil. According to the tour recording and my guidebook, she is the only Mary, mother of Jesus depiction with wings. Some say that she can’t be Mary because of the wings, but the name suggests that she is Mary.

There are only two ways to get up the hill she sits upon- automobile or approximately 1000 steps. It was almost worth the full ticket price to not have to walk up the hill. Yeah, like cheap Stephanie would ever think that, but it really was worth having a ride up the hill, my poor knees would have died had I tried.

It’s nice enough to see her from afar, but she is absolutely beautiful up close. I don’t know what she is made of, but it appears to be small squares of stone glued together like mosaic. The winged virgin is holding tightly to a thick chain that leads to a snake curling around her feet with both perched upon a globe. Snakes are biblical symbols of evil or the devil so my interpretation is that the virgin is holding back evil preventing it from infecting the world. Where Mary worship originated I would like to know; it certainly isn’t biblical.

All in all, it was a fun trip, but I would not recommend that anyone pay the $12 ticket price. Spend that money on a good quality guidebook, read it, and pay 25 cents to take the bus. Or, if you want to splurge, cabs cost between $1 and $3.

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