Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Colca Canyon

Outside of Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru (after Lima, a coastal monster at 8 million), is the deepest canyon in the world. It drops 10,000 feet from the snowy Andes to a deep gorge. We went. See photo of us in front of the tallest mountain I've ever seen (Ampato is 21,000 feet). We're standing - roadside, just off the tour bus - at 16,500. So that's a mile higher than the summit of Mt. Hood right there on the asphalt (well, it's gravel).

Very fun. All well. P

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In Country

Just arrived in Lima after a long day on the road - taxi to Quito, fly to Guayaquil, hang out at the mall (where we picked up Lonely Planet Peru and a few select English titles for las chicas), fly to Lima. We´re in at a cozy youth hostel, heading further south to Arequipa tomorrow. Photos of the pile o´ baggage soon. All well, 5 weeks on the road. P

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Obama Summit

Their headline, not mine. The perspective from this side of the Caribbean has changed in just 3 months. The Summit of the Americas opened today with every nation in our hemisphere but Cuba in attendance. 34 in all. The organization was founded in 1994 for “democratically elected leaders” only and has transitioned in theme from primarily economic to political. The summit opened with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez leading a charge to broaden the topics of debate to include the U.S.’s obligation to help countries suffering under the economic crisis and to rough us up a little over the Cuban embargo.

My favorite news and opinion source is El Comercio, a business-oriented daily from Quito. Friday, when the summit opened, they led with “Latin America waits for a response from the U.S.” By Sunday, the editorials started off with, “The Obama Summit” and “A New Era in the Americas.” The text of the main article included the description of our President, “a man who seems to listen carefully to every word his colleagues say and to communicate with every word he says the distance that he wants to place between himself and the belligerent policies of his predecessor.” As Garrison Keillor wrote in November, “Now when we travel we don’t have to pretend to be Canadian.”

Also heartening to see the published picture of President Obama arriving at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago. He was welcomed by a full dress phalynx of their military, all looking a lot like him.

The US Embassy is renegotiating a new drug enforcement agreement with Ecuador. The last one went up in a puff of smoke after some high-level police officers in the special investigation unit let US officials (who were funding the unit) review their computer files, some classified. The episode ended up with two US diplomats getting expelled and the firing of the long-term chief of the drug enforcement unit, Manuel Silva. So, how much of that was the computer deal and how much was the fact that Silva had just busted a former sub-cabinet minister, a close colleague of Correa’s chancellor, for cooperating with the FARC’s drug-running business? Sometimes it seems that the President here, Rafael Correa, is so busy being leftist-populist with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega that he’s willing to ally with some pretty shady characters. Meanwhile, Columbia’s President Uribe, an unabashed U.S. ally, has gotten a constitutional amendment passed to allow him yet another term in office. Can be hard to tell who’s got the white hat on around here. - Kristen

Peru !

With just 2 months left here, we’re looking at the list of things we don’t want to miss. High on this list are Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. And so we’re off to the southern neighbor country (get a map) on the 26th. This leaves us with just 3 Sundays in country (important to Paul, who has been invited to be a godfather) and a bunch of miles to cover (Quito-Guyaquil-Lima-Arequipa-Puno-Cuzco-Lima-Guayaquil) followed by a jaunt to the Galapagos where Kristen has landed a week’s medical gig.

Looking forward, will be missing here. Back on May 31. Hugs. P

Pig !

KD scored another soccer tourney, and the team (including the only 3 white folks in the tournament) came in second. Second prize was a pig. See photos of the night awards ceremony, as well as dancing at the pig roast the next weekend. I got to watch the slaughter Sunday am for the noon roast (no aged meat here!), and even hold the flame thrower (if you burn off the fur, you can eat the skin). And our friends dressed KD in the indigenous garb, including the cool hair wrap. P


I was downtown visiting the mayor and noticed a fellow eating breakfast in the park next to his well laden bike. I asked about his trip (boat from Europe to Colombia via Martinique, down the Panamerican) and then invited him to stay with us for a bit. Jarek (Poland) introduced us to Andy (Scotland) and we had a biker party going. Andy had, incredibly, a mandolin stashed in his saddle bags, so we had some fun music – and dancing - as well (see photo of lots of strings in the apartment – Althea’s guitar, Ro’s uke, Andy’s mando, my banjo and charango. 31 strings!) Lovely fellows, great adventures, fun to play host sometimes. Happy trails, boys. P

Mexican Food

Our friend Maria (she and her son Elvis – the 12 yearold hiking guide - have appeared previously here) came to dinner with her boys. We, incredibly, fed them their first-ever tortillas. Questions like “What is tacos?” were an unexpected bonus topic. Folks here eat piles of corn (they have more words for corn than Eskimos for snow), but not corn as tortillas. Why is that? Maria has invited us to be “confirmation godparents” (padrino in Spanish, achitaita in Kichwa) for Jhon (sic) the #3 son. Looking forward to meeting the bishop!


Just a little ways from here is a river valley with a much warmer climate, some altitude related, some just some sort of microclimate. Went for a weekend jaunt with gringo friends Kent and Lauren. It’s super nice for all of us, especially A and R, to speak English with somebody who’s not us. Thanks K and L for spending time with us!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The (other) beautiful game

In one of the great "intercambio" crosscultural moments of our time here, I recently had a chance to introduce two high schoolers to ping pong. These fellows are both on high school scholarships (free education here mostly ends at 7th grade) and they accompanied some visiting donors on the afternoon excursion. We had returned the visiting gringos to their luxury hotel after I tourguided them to an instrumentmaker's workshop and a local museum and waterfall. We had some time before dinner, so I taught these soccer jocks some hand-eye coordination. First time for either of them. I'm not sure that after the 90 minute practice session I could have beaten them.

Lovely. P

Cross culture

Just three eclectic images of different living down here:

Enjoying our friend Vicente's music, girls hanging out with his mom, a neighbor pausing in the back of someone's truck to play the pan pipes (flauta de Pan). Entertaining.

All well, thanks for all the kind words. P

Good Friday

6:30 I’m barely up before the day starts with a phone call, invitation from Julio et famille to join them for fanesca at midday

9:30 Mary and Rayneda arrive, a mother and daughter Paul had met a few days earlier and invited over. R entertains me with stories of her adventures on a 2-month rotation at a family medicine residency here in Ecuador

9:35 Paul arrives home with Yarik, a bicyclist he’s met at the park and invited over. Yarik, originally from Poland, is riding his bike south to Argentina, after departing Geneva 5 months ago and sailing the Atlantic to get started.

11:30 We get off the bus in Iluman and start noticing the steady flow of people up and down the road, carrying small, lidded pots by the handle. The day warms and the sun starts to come out. According to our host, on Good Friday nearly every family cooks fanesca, a thick soup with 13 ingredients, not counting the garnishes, “Then we share.”

2:00 Oops, realize on the way down the hill that I’ve left my change bag with keys at their house. Kids and Paul head into town for Spanish class. The bag found, mama Maria and I visit while daughter Gladys runs down the street to see if our soccer game has, indeed, been changed to 2pm. I got a “no importa” to my concern that blue jeans and leather boots wasn’t what I’d planned to wear for the game. The afternoon has the feel of a mild Thanksgiving afternoon, no one with anything to do but enjoy the day and each other.
Fanesca has turned out to be one of the tastiest food items in Ecuador. Our hostess was up at 3am to stew squash, beans, favas, lentils, corn, chochos… and then on top goes tomato, onions, cheese, egg, parsley, and salted fish. Unfortunately for us foodies, it’s a once-a-year event, although Maria did tell me that the “whities” (mestizos) in Otavalo cook fanesca on the Thursday of holy week. That explains our invitation yesterday where we ate our first fanesca with the family of one of Althea’s teachers. Turns out having a diversity of friends can truly double your fun, or at least your diet.

4:00 The scary team from Cotacatchi no-shows for the soccer match. After a surprisingly short 30 minute wait, we win 1-0 after the ref has us kick off and dribble down the field to score. Assembled women, men, boys and girls, gringos, mestizos and indigenas play a 30-person game on the muddy field. The crowd goes wild.

6:30 Muddy players Kristen, Kent, Lauren and Yarik haul home, having collected another South American cyclist, this time Andy from Scotland. We’re certainly pretty messy, but given the sloshing pots (and one bucket) of fanesca already on the bus, not the only offenders. Upon seeing our instrument collection, Andy retrieves from his bike the mandolin he’s been hauling since he “bought it off an old guy in Cuenca” several months back. Lasagna, bread, bananas flambé, YouCam, “Wild Irish Thyme,” and stories from the road fill the rest of the night.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cross referenceº

Our buddy Kent has a blog, and he has written a bit about us. Fun. See it here

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


We experienced our first of these, and dang it’s no fun. Anna Taft, founder and director of The Tandana Foundation, had been in country for the past 5 weeks but now isn’t. She has been our best contact down here; many of our subsequent projects and contacts have flowed from her work and introductions. We’ve all 4 enjoyed her a whole bunch and are sad to see her go back to Ohio (and Mali and Colorado and Quebec). Thanks, Anita, for all your greatness.

Music program

Both girls have experienced an uptick in their music education this season. The teacher is a wonderful fellow and has gotten Rosie going on recorder (flauta) and Al on guitar. At the recent performance, Al scored a last-minute cameo as backup singer on an English song (You’re Beautiful), plus she was the only student who figured out the chords (rather than just individual notes) to “Titanic” (think Leonardo and Kate, not Pete Seeger). And some students played a piano powered by blowing into a tube while playing. Do we have these in the US? They’re called pianitos here.

And Ro dazzled on the recorder and voice. Notice the gringo parents missed the memo on the Mariachi costume rental, but the rendition of “Cielito lindo” (the “aye-yai-yai-yai” song) was awesome. All very proud and pleased. And a lovely program overall. Nice job, Lucho.

And there has been some great spillover action on ukulele and guitar. Many hours sitting around the apartment learning songs on the instruments. Roll On Columbia, All God’s Critters, Circle Game, Cut the Cake (The Birthday Song), super fun. See priceless photo of Ro arriving in her new Andean hat with her uke in the gig bag. P

Monday, April 6, 2009

Field trip

Semana Santa is a big deal here, so we´re off from school until after Easter. Today the whole school went in 3 busses to a nearby river valley at much lower elevation and swam in the pools of a hotel. Rosie declared "This is the best school field trip I´ve ever been on! We´ve never gotten to go swimming with school before" I must agree it was very neato, just an hour away and we were in legitimately hot, dry country - it looked like the Rockies, but with bananas growing. The Chota river valley, a bit north of us (our closest approach yet to Colombia. We just brushed the edge of Carchi province, which borders Colombia).

Cheers all. P

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