Saturday, January 31, 2009

Soccer tourney

The sporting club down the street has sponsored a soccer tournament; there are like 28 teams participating, and there was an inaugural ceremony including a parade. My pal Segundo (photo, with his son Curry on the left) invited me to suit up and walk with the team from his rural community. Fortunately, the goalie’s jersey was huge so I didn’t have to look like a chorizo (photo). Pony tails everywhere, and I don’t think there was a single player among the 100+ who came up to my chin; I hear there were murmurs of “David Beckham!” among the crowd. We had the beauty queen component (photo), the folkloric dance (photo), and the requisite speeches, half of them in Kichwa. The mayor was there, as was the roasted pig (photo). And then some amazing, small field soccer. Blistering pace, stunning skills. I had unsuited by that point. Fun day in the neighborhood P.

Some general musings

One broad brush reaction to Ecuador – vs. Mexico where I have spent many weeks – is: better music, worse food. I am very taken by the Andean music (charangos, pan pipes, straight flutes); great rhythms and melodies, vs. mariachi which I could do without. But the cuisine is really survival food. I watched at the soccer tournament (photos later) the other day a fellow spectator buy a plate: 3 small boiled potatoes, an ear of corn, and a knuckle of pork. Straight up. In Mexico, there would certainly have been at least dripping red-brown (or green), spiced, yummy sauce. The post-colonial thing is very strong here; rather than drawing from a centuries-old culinary tradition, in many ways the vibe is a centuries-old tradition of enslavement by the Spanish and having anything to fill your belly is a good day. Interesting.

At this low standard of living, so much is more visible for pondering. Energy consumption for one. On our street corner, there are two vendors selling hot food; one is still using wood in the brazier, fanning away with a scrap of cardboard as the food grills, the other using gas. Pedicabs ply the streets carrying natural gas canisters, papayas, people. I think if we’re going to make progress on climate change (my friend Ben says that what we’re looking at is a 90% reduction in energy consumption in the US), we’re all going to have to start living a lot more like Ecuadorians.

Amazingly to me, Ecuador is a member of OPEC (!!) and has a lot of oil and a lot of infrastructure; there is, for example, a trans-Andes pipeline running from the jungle, up and over, and down to the coast. Gasoline is very cheap, diesel is $1 a gallon, gas about $1.50. But electricity is very expensive; there is a discouragement tax on incandescent lightbulbs which makes them about half the cost of fluorescents, vs. like, what, 5x in the US. My sense is that there is much less oil per capita than, say, Saudi Arabia where everyone lives high on government profit-sharing, but oil is a huge revenue source for the government (and a prime destructor of the biodiversity treasure of the Amazon; check out “Amazon Stranger” or “Indians, Oil and Politics” if you’d like to learn more.) The recent plunge in crude prices is going to have a huge impact on government programs (like education).

Thanks for reading and the comments. P

Dollars and retirees

On a bike ride back from a nearby town (Cotacachi for those with Google Earth), I started running some financial numbers in my head. This moment was costing us, in descending order:

$25 a day for amortized airfare here ($3800/165 days)
$8 for the bike rental (but so far only two days spent on that)
$6/day for the stuff we’ve bought for the apartment
$4/day for the rent
$1.60 for the breakfast I found at the bus station (Two fried eggs, yummy stew (beef, potatoes, gravy) over rice, glass of fruit juice (papaya, I think), bun with slice of cheese, instant coffee. Very real, very non-touristy, cool)

This analysis quickly leaves lots of room for higher living; you’ve already spent the biggest ticket item, so don’t skimp on the taxi to the volcano or the charango (more on that soon. :) )

In that same town we discovered what I can only call a gringo enclave. I’d seen these in Mexico but this was my first one here. There is a walled neighborhood – could have been in, say, Phoenix – out in the fields where about 5 years ago a bunch of whiteys bought and built houses. The economics are clear; the pension goes a lot further down here than stateside. The social aspect of it seems disgusting to me, but I always crave the local color. If you don’t want that, barking dogs and roosters and buses gets old in a hurry, and one way to minimize that is to set apart and wall off. KD ran into some of these folks in the grocery store – tall white guy, attendant, hideous Spanish accent. Interesting. P

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I always remember the quip that marijuana is the 4th most popular psychoactive drug in the US, a distant follower to nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. Down here we’ve invented a new drink, crossing Mexican and Brazilian cultures. As a lad, I was introduced in a big way to the traditional Brazilian cocktail – caiparinha – made with cachaca (sugar cane liquor, essentially rum), limes and sugar. Ask my mom about that tale. Well KD sprang for a bottle of off-brand tequila but there aren’t triple sec or sweetened lime juice. So she’s taken to a nightly nip of tequila, limes and sugar. We alternate between calling it a margarinha and a caiparita.

And I saw my first coca leaf. My understanding, then and now, is that the histrionic freaking out about cocaine has led to a total rejection of any form of this plant. Chewing or steeping the leaves is reputed to give a smooth, pleasant buzz like caffeine only less harsh. Here it is available, though not everywhere, as a tea. There are bags for sale in a few stores. Assure the FBI I didn’t buy some yesterday and didn’t steep any up. Fun! P


When I showed a new friend a photo of Crater Lake (Oregon’s sole national park), he said it looks just like Laguna Cuicocha (Kichwa for Guinea Pig Lake). We journeyed there yesterday and it is a great spot. Proportionally smaller than CL (with a rim trail of 10k vs. 40 miles), but similarly stunning. We boated out to the islands to see the bubbling gases from the not-inactive volcano, loved it. Looking forward to returning for an overnight in the lovely guest rooms at the sweet little hotel/concessionaire.

So, what’s up with the guinea pigs?

I hear you asking. The one Ecuadorian food we had learned of from our research before the trip was roasted guinea pig. That seemed strange, but there it is. We’ve been invited to come eat some in a home, saw it on a menu yesterday (photo), seen some on the hoof, seen signs advertising it, haven’t yet sealed the deal. Why guinea pig?

I’ve decided it’s kind of a Jared Diamond thing. Living in the mountains, there were few animals of any size, and no others to domesticate. It reminds me of climbing in the Tetons; if I had wanted to eat meat, it would have been marmot (no grizzlies in Ecuador). It’s just the same here; the traditional fancy feast is the animal you’ve always had. Now that cow and pig and chicken are here, it seems silly, but traditions are important. It’s kind of like Peking Duck, right? You have to call ahead to order that in a Chinese restaurant.

Hope to tell you soon that it tastes just like chicken. P

Ecuadorian triathlon

50 meter trash dash: We’re re-enacting an event we watched our friends Mike and Robin contest in Mexico 10 years ago. Trash collection is by a classic garbage truck that slowly roams the city daily, playing a song reminiscent of ice cream trucks. They alternate days to collect Organic and Inorganic waste. The organic (including leather shoes) gets composted. There’s no sidewalk space for garbage cans and dogs roaming everywhere, thus the task at hand is to hear the truck, gather one’s rubbish, and vault down a flight of stairs and out the door onto the street before the truck gets out of range. The runner is of course cheered on my family members on the stairs or at the window shouting “trash truck, trash truck…” I’m walking the knife-edge tonight. Took the trash down about 15 minutes before expected arrival and added it to a bag already on the sidewalk. Worked for Arlo Guthrie, monitoring from the window for marauding dogs…

School bus surfing: Standing on buses being an expected event here, as elsewhere in the 2/3 world, the girls and I have had a taste of trying to stay upright inside a moving school bus without grab bars. For the taller folks like me, pushing up on the ceiling seems to do the trick. The disadvantage of height is being unable to see what’s coming next through the windows. Adults and teens surf near the often-open doors, smaller kids get shoved in through the cracks to safety. When picking up a couple older boys along the Panamerican, the driver just slows enough for them to get a good grab, hobo style, and hoist themselves on.

The white folk taxi un-hail: Look down, turn halfway away, shrug, frown, lean against the nearest fence/wall…still perfecting the technique that will dissuade every taxi from honking on its way by. The ones that actually stop don’t seem bothered that we don’t want a taxi ride, but hope dies last, I guess. We’re thinking that getting the girls’ school uniform order in will help the taxi bottleneck that we run the risk of creating at the school bus stop. - KD

Job Offer

Well, I win the prize awarded to first family member to turn down a job. Teaching English at the girls’ school. One of the three teachers quit over the weekend, after getting called in front of a group of parents of Rosie’s classmates at a parent meeting. I actually thought the parent’s concerns were relevant, but probably a bit in-your-face for the poor woman. Especially here, in the land of indirect communication.

I managed to bow out of the principals’ request, and they were quite reasonable about it. Have a couple other candidates already interviewed. I think they just didn’t want to pass up a native-speaker if that was possible. I did agree to fill in for two days and meet with the English teachers some. Its fun to help with some pronunciation and fluency where needed, I’m just trying my best to stay free of really substantial commitments, like 30 hours a week of teaching! - KD

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feeding kids overseas

Imagine…no jars of spaghetti sauce, no salsa, no peanut butter, no apples, no tortillas. Butter tastes funny, yogurt tastes funny, cheese tastes funny. Kitchen has no freezer, fridge too small for a half-gallon of milk. The Salsa de Tomate (literally “tomato sauce”) is actually ketchup.

All cold cereals are packed with sugar, so much that Rosie couldn’t even finish a bowl of corn flakes yesterday morning. And those were the ones advertising whole grains on the package! Not the Tony-the-Tiger Frosted Flakes kind.

On the flip side, milk comes in boxes that sit on the shelf until needed. All the mangoes, papayas, and strawberries you can eat. Great skewers of grilled chicken, beef, and sausage down the block. Most restaurants serve white rice. (The kids have stopped asking for soy sauce.)

Put on your walking shoes to go get food. Fruit stands are on one side of the street market five blocks down, vegetables on the other. Milk at the grocery store across town. Bread on the way home at the bakery. Flour, corn, oil, salt, candy, soda, gum on nearly every block in a tiny storefront.

Major bright spots this week: found Ramen on a dusty top shelf at the grocery store. And..drum roll, please…while perusing a range of spices hanging in tiny bags, I came across “Pasta de Mani” with a drawing of a familiar nut on the front. Turns out you CAN buy peanut butter here, it’s just sold 3 oz at a time as a seasoning for “Asian and other foreign dishes.” Lives in an envelope on the wall next to the oregano and cinnamon. And they’re not “cacahautes” like in Mexico, they’re “mani” in these parts.

Check out the economics of this: ramen costs 30-50 cents a package. That’s the first thing I’ve run into that costs more here than in the US. It’s hard to imagine how people make it, with the minimum wage $200/mo and 45% underemployment. Lots of produce and local food, hardly anything that comes in a package, I guess. There must be lots of households spending 50-75% of their income on food. - KD

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Shout out to Kay for sending along her chronicle of a Portugal sabbatical a couple of years ago. I’ve been rationing myself to a couple of pages a day, feels like having a comrade in alien-ness. She describes an unusual fruit that she found, and I recognized the picture. They called it soursop, here it’s guanabana; see Wikipedia for a pic of this unusual, tropical looking thing. Another new one to me is the guaba (not guava), which looks for all the world like an 2-foot green bean, but contains creamy white sweet fruit around impressive pits. Wow. We also saw some cabbages the other day about 300% of normal size. With only a moisture cycle to govern planting and harvest– vs. an annual temperature cycle – things can grow for, well, forever. This can lead to some quite different strategies for plants. A common food, for example, is lupine seeds. They just don’t have time stateside to achieve a size worth harvesting, but here they’re like garbanzos.


Took the girls to see some real poverty yesterday in an outlying village. I’m taking some photos of students for the Tandana Foundation, and some of these kids live in dirt floor homes well off any road. Walk down the mud road and take a left at the bush type stuff (see photos). I’m thrilled for the girls to see it. We started at the village store (photo) and walked around the hillside to visit half a dozen families to gather photos for publicity for the Foundation.

We brought to Ecuador generous contributions from our dentist Bruce Burton and our pharmacist friend Nicole Schrankel. I think we will be able to make great use of these donations in this and close by communities. Thanks, you guys, for helping!

I solicited some comments from the girls:

Ro: “I think it was interesting to see how poor the people were compared to how rich we are. Because they just had like one-story houses made out of rusty cement. I couldn’t really imagine walking up a muddy hill instead of walking on a sidewalk to get to school. They don’t have really any sidewalks there.”

Al : “It was pretty cool, I kind of liked how lush it was. I was glad the Tandana Foundation could help them go to school so that they could do what they want to in their lives. It was very muddy, and I liked all the little doggies; they were very well behaved for strays.”

Moved !!

into our apartment (photo)! 2nd floor of 3, grandma on the top floor, another family on the first floor. It’s about 10 blocks from our hotel, settling into cooking, more space, buying beds, mattresses, mugs, pots, fridge. A kind benefactor has loaned us a stove, desks, bed, mattresses, pots, plates, many things. Sent her $7 of roses. We entertained our first visitors yesterday.

I had to chuckle when the clouds cleared and I could see the summits of both Cotacacchi and Imbabura volcanoes from the bedroom. As the realtors in Hood River say, “Double mountain view!”

We will spend more on buying furnishings than we will on rent, pretty upsidedown situation, but we can make lots of gifts in June.

Friday, January 16, 2009


School here is a lot different than at home because I can't go to school everyday and know what I'm supposed to be doing. Going to school here is not going to school because I'm not going to school to learn I'm going to school to learn Spanish. But I am really ecxited because we're starting to move into the apartment that we rented!!!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food reprise

I had heard of the goat man who walks around selling milk from the udder. I encountered him today (photo) and braved the $0.50 small cup of milk; I was fully prepared for it to taste like chevre, but it was mild as cow. Lovely. Then, on my bike ride, I encountered this awesome scene (photo). The funniest thing is that the words for skin and hair are very similar in Spanish – piel and pelo. Just a block before I had passed a place that would cut my hair (corte de pelo). Then a block later, a 3D corte de piel ! One of the valuable parts of Mr. Pig is the skin; they grill it like we would a thin steak or chicken breast.


First biking aka Otavalo Roubaix

I paid the $8 and went on my first ride into the country. The first reaction is, after walking around a town for 10 days, a bike makes things much closer; it’s way faster than walking! I headed out of town to go to Panecillo to deliver a message for the Tandana Foundation. This is perfect mountain bike country; the roads are either paved and shoulderless (photo of the Pan American highway) or paved with stones (photo. For you 4-wheelers out there, the Paris Roubaix is a wildly famous bike race that includes many sections of pavé, French for “uneven rocky cobbles”). This road gradually faded to jungle as I left town (photo) and then to grassy path (photo), then to pig path, then Maria (photo) rescued me and showed me where to cross the creek and push my bike uphill through the corn field. She had walked about a mile each way to harvest this long grass to feed her guinea pigs (food and pets, more another day on that)

Awesome ride, sprang for two half-liter bottles of water at the top. In the 15 minutes I sat at the little store, these two tiny ones (photos) came by twice, to buy cumin and matches. Their daycare plan clearly includes walking back and forth to the corner store a lot.

Also on the ride, I encountered this amazing clothes washing scene. In my time at the helm, doing the laundry and minding the kid might have involved toys, a book, perhaps a couch. Not so here. I asked her if I might take her picture and she replied “for free or for pay?” I said for pay of course and gave her a buck and we were both happy (honest! I showed her this and other pictures afterwards and she smiled)


Urban development

Their tax dollars at work! I couldn’t help being struck by the sight of two fellows with pick axes removing this block of sidewalk. After watching millions of dollars of machines having at it in downtown Hood River last spring, the contrast was stark. There are quite fancy seeming colored tiles on most of the sidewalks around here, and it appears this section is now catching up. Arthur, I wonder if they have tax increment financing for this work?
And this (photo) is a building project on our corner. Note the placement of bridges for the pedestrians to traverse the gravel piles.


The Mayor

One idea I had to rustle up projects was to pay a call on the mayor of Otavalo, and I did this week. Being a consejal myself (city councilor) it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Don Mario Conejo is the first indigeno mayor of Otavalo, and I believe one of the highest ranking natives in the country. He is wildly popular here, winning a majority of votes in a race with multiple candidates. Some, of course, feel that he has abandoned the indigena agenda and compromised his people's interests to the interests of the whole populace - welcome to politics, right?

He speaks, as do all indigenous folks here, Spanish and their native tongue, Kichwa. There is a strong movement to retain this language, and it is somewhat working. You hear the older folks on the square and in the street, dressed in the traditional garb, speaking it, and many of the promtional signs around town include it, though not the stop signs or anything like that. It's position is somewhat less than, say, French in Montreal, but quite strong. It's part of the current culture here. When I told folks in Quito we were coming up here, they asked "Why? To learn Kichwa?"

So, I dressed up in my finest, took some business cards from the City Council, and marched down to the Municipal building. The receptionist and secretaries were very gracious and we set an appointment for Tuesday at 11. I arrived a bit before the appointed hour, receptionist apologetic, could I come back at 2. I did see my name was written in the scheduling book on her desk, so it wasn't "We forgot" but more like "Latin life happened". Not unexpected, I've experienced this type of thing in Latin cultures home and abroad, so I was happy to come back at 2. At 2, it was "Oh very sorry, could you come back in 30 minutes" This now felt a bit unorganized. So I came back at 2:30 and sat in the full waiting room until about 3:15 -

(during this time, I had a pleasant conversation with a local woman who inquired of me, her neighbor on the bench waiting for the mayor, "What type of problem do you have?" I got to learn about her group's concern and hope to visit her tiny village on the outskirts. She farms beets and potatos to sell at the Otavalo market. Stay tuned for that post hopefully)

At 3:15, I was whisked in and had a very pleasant, brief visit with a very impressive, charismatic, creative leader. I was very taken by him. He apologized for the wait and rescheduling and invited me to sit in on a session he was entering with a delegation of indigenous leaders from Bogota. So I got to sit in on a couple of hours of mutual boosterism and idea sharing with the Columbians, spoke briefly two times, and came home with an armload of swag - posters of the City, calendars, a CD, postcards, etc. and well-wishes for my time here and assurances that if I needed anything to please let them know. We'll see what may come of it; I have some ideas.

So, a very intersting little adventure. As a fun side note that I think lends insight into the cultural politic, last weekend I told my new friend Segundo - the maestro of the minga - that I had an appointment with the mayor and asked what should I say to him. Segundo is a huge promoter of local culture, teaches at a local bilingual school (and I'm not talking about Spanish-English!), has recorded traditional stories in Spanish and Kichwa for use in schools, etc. So when I asked Segundo what should I say to the Mayor, Segundo told me I should tell him "Alli Punja" (Kichwa for "good morning"...)

School goes on, quite disappointing in quality, K and I are attending with Rosie for translation and support, all being good sports about a tough situation. Hoping to make a friend or two there, Althea seems to be doing just fine up in 8th grade.

Food: Enjoyed two new teas: limoncello and oregano, made with steeped leaves of lemon and oregano. Yum.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Comments layout change

Genius brother David has altered the layout so we can conveniently browse the comments made most recently regardless of post. Nice! Thanks, David.

Thanks for all the comments, Chuck's image of the beef processing is amazing.

Kristen has been attending school the last 3 days to smooth the transition for Rosita, it's helping. Had our first schoolfriend visit yesterday; Tania and someone else came over for playing cards and iTunes after school. They had scheduled twice before on Friday and Saturday and no-showed. I was in a bit of a panic, though Al didn't seem phased by it all.

Great weekend of fun. I was invited to help with a minga - a work party. We moved 1000 bricks from behind the neighbors house to near the dump truck to into the dump truck, then rode atop the load across the valley to the sister's house site, then unloaded them. About 4 hours of sweaty work with a nice group of fellows, then dinner and basketball on the community court. I felt like Yao Ming. Very fun.

The minga inviter is a lovely man named Segundo whom I know through the contacts I made at the Tandana Foundation, a local group working on community building, health care and education. Segundo has welcomed me with open arms; we've played music, hiked, alley-ooped and are planning to record some stories he has translated from his Grandpa's Kichwa (Andean language) into Spanish. Tandana translated them into English and wants a recording voice. Me! Fun.

I have an appointment to meet the mayor later today, have no idea whether that will yield any interesting activity or not. KD has an appointment to meet a government health coordinator of some sort. We went hiking with Segundo and wife Maria and their kids Sunday, feeling blessed.

And plenty of difficult things. No crying before school today, a nice change. Plenty of "at loose ends" time for me to figure out how to engage, regular stuff. Great opportunity, tons of fun, hard work. The standard deal.

thanks for all the good thoughts. Pictures soon. P

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anglo on Market Day

A major hazard of being white in a market town, especially on Saturday, is being endlessly approached by people trying to sell you stuff. Coconuts, sunglasses, sweaters, bags, fried fish with the head on… I mentioned today how nice it would be to have a label on my hat that said, “I’m not a tourist,” and caught myself. How many Black men in the U.S. are sick of being treated as criminals? How many Latinas have wanted a “Don’t assume I only speak Spanish” tag? Paul chimed in with a name for our current problem, “Walking While White.” - KD

Kid interview, KD's lists

What’s it like going to school where you don’t speak the language?
Rosie: "It’s really scary sometimes and really overwhelming. I, like, don’t know what to do. It’s not like my American school where I just know what to do. I miss my parents more than I would at my usual school."

Althea: "I think of mom translating at home, and then I get teary eyes. Then the teacher goes and asks me to read in Spanish, and I was really scared. Then she said I did 'muy bien.'"

Kristen’s lists -
Things I’m really appreciating having:
Running water, cold AND hot
A second cooking pot ($5 to double the inventory and triple our water-boiling capacity)
A refrigerator and stove
Shoes that fit
A toilet
Four bowls to cook and eat with
A second and third teaspoon
Enough money

Things I’m thinking would be really nice:
A pressure cooker (tried beans at 8,000 feet; soaked then boiled 2 hours, still crunchy)
A fourth teaspoon
A slotted spoon
A second pair of jeans

Shopping list for moving with our suitcases into an unfurnished apartment:
4 mattresses, perhaps with beds
Table with 6 chairs, hoping for company
2 Electric shower heads (only cold running water in most buildings here)
Pillows, sheets, towels
Bricks, boards, crates, cardboard boxes
(I wonder if they have here those huge plywood spools that grace every grad student apartment?)

Things I saw walking home from the kids’ school Day One (about 3 miles):
A pony tied in the back of a tiny pickup, looking out over the cab
Cement bricks being made on-site for three-story buildings
Cow tethered and grazing on an empty suburban lot
A ten year old girl washing laundry in the front yard, 10 am on a school day (but not for her, it appears)
A huge German Shepherd with her forepaws on the second story balcony railing, surveying the traffic on the Pan-American Hwy
Men sitting at a road junction, looking for all the world like a U.S. day laborer congregation minus the Home Depot backdrop
Girls walking to school in traditional dress with an apron made from the school uniform skirt and school sweater over the top
Pigs, geese, goats, chickens

Clothing (and thanks, commenters)

You guys rock. I appreciate the input.

Pretty much I'm the blogger, aren't I? The girls get distracted on the computer with more fun things to do (iTunes, youtube), but I'll try to steer them towards it. Suffice it to say that they are in deep: going to school, eating weird food, living away from every single friend. Wow. They're heros. I will pass on your great cheering on to them.

A question about Obama; I've not heard a single mention of this down here. People ask us where we're from, we say US, they say what part, they sometimes ask us if that's in the middle part of the country, we say it's near California, they nod. Then we speak of other things.

Clothing: So, we're on the Equator. Central America is all in the northern hemisphere and thus experiences rainy when US is in summer, dry when we're in winter (more or less). Makes for great vacations. Here, there is not an annual weather change of much significance. I did hear of a "summery period around Christmastime" [El veranillo del Nino], but pretty much the significant weather is a daily fluctuation. And in a fairly narrow range. Honest question: Has any of you ever lived in a house with neither heat nor air conditioning? I have not, until now. It gets hot and cool every single day here. I have decided that the best description of the climate here is... Mister Rogers! I'm always taking off and putting on long sleeved garments. I wear a light wool/chamois shirt in the morning over my shortsleeved shirt, sometimes a thin wool hat, and then by 10 I'm hot and taking it off to put on my sunshirt for protection because we're at 8000 feet on the equator. I wear a dopey floppy sun hat when the wool hat comes off. I've not yet wanted the shorts I brought, jeans every day. Loose running pants for the sessions at the stadium. It's a very different mindset; in OR, you wake up, if it's cool you kind of decide that today is a sweater day and head on out. Here you have to change clothes a couple of times each day. And heaven help you if you go out in the heat at 3 to meet a friend without bringing your wool shirt because by 6 you're cold. The Andinas all wear shawls; this is good shawl country. When you get hot, you sort of fold like a banquet napkin and balance it on your head. No photo, sorry.

First full market day (Saturday) Yes, it's like Hood River in August. You know where to not go, tons of stuff to buy, tons of folks have come who want to buy it. Food and handcrafts out the kazoo. Amazing.

Tomorrow: energy consumption. I'm so enjoying being in an OPEC member country full of pedicabs hauling cinderblocks, papayas and grandmothers.


Friday, January 9, 2009


In response to a comment, what about the realities of telecommunication down here. Thanks brother David for the prompt.

OUr friend Mark had given me a primer on cell phone access here and he was very accurate. You walk into many many stores (though it took 3 tries here) and buy a SIM card (though they call it "un chip") for $5 (remember, we use US dollars in this country). This gets you a phone number (Quito area code is 02, Otavalo is 06, all cell phones are 09. We had considered waiting to buy "un chip" until after we arrived in Otavalo so we wouuld have a local, not big-city area code, but that was irrelavent/impossible) and $3 worth of minutes. Mark had explained that before leaving the states, we should call our cell service provider (ATT/Cingular) and ask them to unlock our phone so that it would work with other service networks. I understand there is some regulatory component of this; our 2-year contract with ATT had just expired, so they were not unhappy to enable us to do this - they provide a 8 digit code to type in.

So, I bought the chip, put it in, entered my unlock code, and have a phone number. This was all new to me.

Local vs. international calling: Things are in an amazing phase of transition en este momento. The cheapest way to call home is Skype, but you have to have good bandwidth. There are many internet cafes, but the most common activities there are gaming and emailing on the web; as a result, the environment is loud music. You need a silent room to skype, and that's quite a different environment.

Now, the next cheapest way to call home is IP phone, like Vonage or VoIP. These very much exist. For 10 cents a minute, I have called Mom and housesitter etc. There is a little bit of delay, just enough that you kind of tend to stomp on one another like the old days of international calling. But the price is right. Landline intl. calling is 25 cents a minute. The two choices look very much alike - like a row of phone booths in the corner of a storefront. Like study carrels in college libraries. There is a little meter on the wall and you pay after. But the big difference is that a little store will have landline "cabinas" as they're called (and ads for cell phone service - here Porta and Movistar), while the IP phone cabinas are in the corner of places with broadband, ie internet cafes. Once you figure out that to call Mom on the phone you go to the internet cafe, it all falls into place.

Side note: our heroic struggles with email were partly the result of the fact that we like to use client software for email, ie Outlook. Most of the world seems to use web interface email (eg. gmail, hotmail) and that doesn't pose the same ISP compatibility issues.

I would guess there are 10 internet cafes in this town, and they are frankly only for the young poor folks who don't enjoy WiFi in the hotel. I am sitting on my hotel bed typing this. Only about 120 kbps download speed compared to about 1200 in my home in Hood River, not really enough to watch youtube, for example, or to video skype, but plenty for blogging and email.

At the cafe it costs $1 per hour of computer time, and in general you can't bring in your laptop. Not much WiFi, mostly sitting at a row of their computers with the young local gamers and the gritty backpackers.

That's the scene down here. Hugs. P


A bit of follow up to previous post on this topic. I took my camera with me today (last time I was cooling down from a session on the track; I am willing to risk my sweatshirt and hat on the bench at the stadium, but not the camera) and got some shots. No crabs today, disappointing, but I saw the pear woman. (When she asked me how much I wanted to buy, I explained that I only wanted a picture. And gave her a dollar. My friend Sue helped me understand this aspect of it. I'm here for the interest and chatting and learning. She's here to make money for her supper. So paying for the chatting feels like a good balance.) So, anyway, she wanted to put out more pears for me to photograph (photo) and... out came this box! I know Fred Duckwall a bit from working with Port Commission and was pretty darn psyched to see his logo on the street down here.

And then I saw some of those snails I mentioned the other day (photo). Boiling in pot on the back of the stove, ready for sale in single serving sizes in the front. Yum!

Indigenas and Exercise

Public Service Announcement: I feel a bit like the folks at public radio; I put this stuff up and have no idea how many people are reading it. I have gotten some lovely comments, cheering and questions from several folks, and I am realizing that I greatly look forward to seeing that a comment has been added. It's the lifeblood for me, folks; if you want me to write, write me! If you don't have and don't want a google account, email me your question or comment. Like they say on OPB - do your part!

Brother John asked about the famed Otavalo market. Well, I haven't been here for a weekend yet, but by all accounts it rocks. And the 7-day a week market is dang impressive. I'm guessing that Saturday in Otavalo will be like August in Hood River: don't go downtown much, stick to the outskirts, hunker down until the wave passes. Like a duck-diving surfer. We'll see.

This brings me to topic 1 today. (No photos on this topic; photos go with topic 2. Hang in there.) The indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Andes are, if you can believe it, thriving. Have you ever seen those two words together in a sentence? I'm totally interested in this. It appears that the craft market draw of Otavalo (handicrafts of all kinds - gourd painting, stringed and wind instruments, fabrics, clothing, hats, jewelry - has somehow not been coopted by the anglos and that the indigenous (I like the word Andinas (Andean people)) folks have organized and own the joint. They dress in traditional clothes (including the schoolkids, who wear the school uniform skirt like an apron over their long navy dresses), but drive cars - some nice cars - and run the show. It reminds a lot of meeting the CEO of Good Shepherd hospital in Illinois during my consulting days; she was a diminutive nun in a habit. Perhaps the best example I've yet seen of this juxtaposition is a woman about my age trooping down the street in full traditional garb, with an new Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt overtop to ward of the am chill. So cool to see natives making it economically. And this seems to translate into cultural vibrancy as well. Tons of folks speak Kichwa at home and on the street, there are parks in town named things like Ruminahui (and not just Pizarro etc.) I'm getting to help a fellow record in English a reading of a Kichwa folk tale that he has already recorded in Kichwa and Spanish. Fun!

Topic 2: All who know us know that exercise is an important part of the equation for Kristen and myself. We certainly didn't bring our bikes in the "Pile o' baggage" (previous post), so how's it going? Well, Kristen had taken control of the kitchen for this chapter, and last night she quipped "I'm learning how feed a family of four on five miles a day" Lots of opportunity to walk to market, school, internet phone store, everywhere. I have been hitting the municipal stadium a bit in the am (photo) and found some boys to run around with. At 6:30 in the morning, at least for the last 4 mornings, there are maybe 75 folks getting it done in the stadium: aerobics (photo) to rocking music, calesthentics, jogging, awesome. And not all skinny young people. There some old and some round folks out there keeping body and mind healthy. It's super fun to see a culture of fitness; it reminds me a lot of some European communities I've seen. And then peeled or squeezed oranges afterwards (photo). And I couldn't resist two photos of the back stretch of the track: hand painted on the wall are the start (salida)and finish (llegada) of the 100m.

Woof. Enough. Thanks for the interest. And comments! P

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Some photos

Our kitchenette, breakfast on school day 1 (bus comes at 6:30!), First day of school (with Edwin the nightwatchman at our hotel), and waiting at the bus stop.

First week in Otavalo

Well, I guess it takes me longer to write it than for you to read it, so here goes. Lots of thoughts today. NOTE: some graphic language today, and an answer to a query Brother John placed in a comment the other day. (Hint, hint)

Food: Always a fascinating topic in any country, including one’s own, and one that I keep finding myself interested in. Yesterday I peaked the family’s “gross food” meter with the cholos for sale on the square. A small bag, seasoned with lime and salt, of tiny snails. Like escargot, except more the size of marbles. You eat them by picking each one up and sucking out the protein. Yum. Today I moved past that personally with the visit to the meat aisle at the local outdoor (though covered) marketplace. It's the same level of indoors as the tent at a huge wedding reception. I watched a woman in native garb, including mid-length decorative frilly sleeves, running the bandsaw on the room temperature side of beef. Cow heads, tubs of liver, tubs of intestines, tubs of pork skin, you get the picture. Awesome, real, and very very disgusting. It’s the same fundamentally as how our meat gets from hoof to us, but in our country the consumer never sees any of the steps. Aldo Leopold, ecologist extraordinaire, reminds us, “The fundamental risk of living in the city is the mistaken understanding that food comes from the grocery store and heat comes from the furnace.” Amen, brother. Other fairly stunning sights included crabs, live, tied into rectangular bundles with string and then boxed, 4 bundles to the case, into very rectilinear, normal looking shipping cases. Wow, sorry I didn’t have my camera at the moment.

Of course, another side of the food scene is that on the equator, you can eat local strawberries (for $0.50 a pound) in every month including this one, though the cherries only come in December/January. Any botanists who can clarify the why of that would be welcome. I also saw, piled on the cart on the street corner, some lovely, small green fruits with a pointed end on them bearing the familiar sticker Gordy, you should be proud! Fun!

Affordability: Another area of interest to me. For us certainly the largest cost of this adventure, far and away, is the forgone income, ie the not working. Living here is far cheaper than the states, but how much cheaper? We stayed for $60 a night in Quito, which felt like plenty to spend to stay out of a gritty place, and we were very pleased with that comfort level. We’re temporarily in a hotel kitchenette until we find a better place, and this is $40 a night including breakfast. Now, a $1200 mortgage payment puts you at $40 a night, so this is no more expensive (nor cheaper) than at home. We have been told that we can find an apartment for $90, $150, $180, just looked at one for $230 a month. That’s like $3-8 a night. Interesting. So that’s the largest expense in one’s budget (though the $3.5k in airfares doesn’t amortize down very quickly), though going out to eat can easily exceed that (a simple dinner can be like $5 a person, so $20 would be 0.5 – 8 nights of rent). A kitchenette is certainly an economical tool to have in one’s possession.

Girls at school for day 2 today, some tears yesterday, brave souls getting a truckload of compassion bootcamp. They sit at the desk mute. Althea was quite distressed to not even know which class was which (Is this math? Science? Language Arts?) Rosie taught a hand clapping game to a new amiga Leslie; sweet. They're being brave, I'm very proud and anxious for them. We didn't go with them on the bus today, took them to the stop and put them on. Wow.

Huge shoutout to brother David for slashing his way through some thorny computer issues; more precisely, the local WiFi ISP would not permit us to connect to our SMTP server to send email through Outlook. Several trips hoofing crosstown with the laptop, countless clicks of send/receive, reinstalled email accounts, changing server settings, authentication requirements, google searches, pleasant visits to, you get the idea. Davey, you rock!

Hugs all. P

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Arrived in Otavalo

I guess the long and short of it is we: descended about 1000 feet (down here at 8000 we're sprinting up the steps), crossed the Equator on the Pan American Highway (photo), scored a sweet deal on a lovely little kitchenette apartment in a nice hotel, took the girls to check out a school (photos)(thanks Hayden and Bill), liked it, and they will attend their first day tomorrow. I especially like the photo of Ro's first few minutes in her new classroom.

This town is lovely. There's a strip of semi-horrifying tourism services immediately adjacent to the main market square (they call it Poncho Plaza - LOTS of musical instruments, hats, geegaws, bags, jewelry, etc. to buy), but also plenty of real world less-developed country (a friend calls it "underconsuming country")town to live in. I feel like we shot from far far away and came pretty dang close to a good mark. Thanks Chuck and Sue and Hayden and Bill for the great counsel.

We have a phone number, too. Comment here or email if you would like it. P

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pile o' baggage

We took a vote and decided to put up this picture, albeit out of chronological sequence. This is 4:30 am New Year's Day in PDX; coincidentally, taken by our friend Tood who was passing through on her way to Florida.

We almost were trying to set it to music: 5 duffle bags, 2 roll aboards, 4 backpacks. And a banjo.

All well. Good thoughts certainly helping and welcome. P

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Last days in Quito

All continues well in our South American metropolis. We’ve established a lovely little beachhead here at our hotel: friendly, cozy, quiet, pleasant (photo). I have made friends with the restaurant staff; they go off menu to make bland pasta and deliver hot chocolate to the room for the gringa girls. Today, they invited me to join in the noontime card game; I bought the table beers and learned to play the traditional Quito game of 40. I’ll teach you all when I return.

In addition to OLD, Quito is quite HIGH! Yesterday, a friend of my friend Skip’s met us and took us up the Teleferiqo (gondola) from downtown (9,000 ft) to 13,000 (photos, do the math on 4100m). After a few minutes, the clouds cleared and Pichincha Volcano appeared at 16,500 (photo) – the highest mountain I’ve ever seen, higher than anything in the lower 48. This held the record for several hours until I saw Cotopaxi from Ed’s apartment – 19,500! That’s in the neighborhood of Denali. Yahoo!

Afterwards, Ed and Pilar hosted us in their home for pizza and visiting; their kids are 7 and 4. The 3 Little Pigs was a big hit on the couch (photo). Thanks for a great day you guys!

Today was our last day in the big town. We checked out mass at a giant Spanish colonial church on the Plaza Grande: full-on gilding and Rococo interior. Wow. Then a huge park in the center of the city where folks were out in force enjoying soccer, volleyball, basketball, biking in the sunshine. Lovely. Some ice cream for the girls, all in good spirits.

Otavalo tomorrow! Paul

And a few words from the girls:
Althea Says:
It was a great ride on the gondola yesterday, and our friends were very nice and their part of Quito was beautiful. We go to Otovalo tomorrow, and I'm hoping it will be a little more homey. We will See the school and maybe meet some friends! :-)Hoping it all goes well,

I am just kind of feeling weird about coming to Quito and then leaving Quito it is kind of a big change. it will be interesting to see what is like in Otavalo.

Going To Ecuador!!!!!

Going to Ecuador was a really big surprise and i really didn't see it coming.but it seemed so far away when they told me but it isn't so far away anymore because we're in Ecuador and it is a lot different then i thought it would be. But over the time I've been in Ecuador it isn't to bad here. it is actually kind of fun. Rosalie

Going To Ecuador!!!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009


It feels a little boosterish, but I’m quite interested in some of this info and wanted to pass it along. We’re staying in the Old Town area of Quito (photo of street in front of our hotel). In the 1940’s, the aristocrats sort of block rushed another section of town and created New Town, or La Mariscal. It’s reputed to be more tourist-inhabited and isn’t Colonial-building-central like this area is. This part of town is in fact, for this hemisphere, really old.

La Plaza Grande was first laid out in 1534 – that’s Plymouth Rock minus 85 years, and during the lifetime of Michangelo, before Shakespeare’s birth, just 15 years after Cortez started whacking on Aztecs. It will be 500 years old when Rosie finishes college. Old!

I walked over today while the juniors were acclimating to new time zone and 9000 feet (ie snoozing); it was quite bustling (photo) with families and musicians enjoying the last day of Xmas break, plus riot police with those plexiglass shield things waiting patiently in reserve as the respective boosters of two political opponents shouted and cheered and waved their index fingers at each other. The Cathedral is on one side, big obelisk thing in the middle (photo).This Plaza is now called La Plaza Independencia in commemoration of kicking out the Spaniards in 1809 (after nearly 300 years of colonial rule); the obelisk is the monument to that.

Eggs and buns and fruit salad and café con leche for breakfast downstairs this morning, tomorrow we’re looking forward to hazarding the Coastal Breakfast: Green banana balls stuffed with cheese or fried pork rinds. Yum!

Hugs to back there. Paul


All safe and sound, thanks for all the good wishes out there. Dear friend Geoff took time away from Beth´s birthday dinner and NY Eve to drive us in, 4 am shuttle from hotel, Houston at noon, Quito at 10:30, immigration and then taxi to hotel at 11:30 (Quito is on NYC time, so really only 8:30 pm for us). Whew. Stellar travelers, iPod movies, kind neighbors shared brownies and headphones with us.

Wé´re staying right in the center of the City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the best Spanish colonial areas in the Americas (apparently). Big city, but an interior, quiet hotel room. Ventured out this am around the block, stopped in on a mass filled with people less than my shoulder height. Words for the morning: Salvador, Par and Peluqueria - savior, pair (of eggs, on a menu) and haircuttery.

Thanks for reading. We have a date to visit a friend of a friend tomorrow and his family. Cheers. Paul

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