10 Favorite Things about Ecuador

10 Favorite Things

1. An abundance of flowers...especially the roses!
2. Unusual foods with questionable parts in my soup.
3. The indigenous with colorful ethnic clothing.
4. Animated, excited and interested Ecuadorians.
5. Romantic music and men with "hearts on their sleeve".
6. Jungle creatures and huge cascading waterfalls.
7. Everyday politeness and friendliness.
8. Inexpensive living and travelling.
9. No money exchange needed - they use the U.S. dollar.
10. Rooms for $5-$10 with waterfall views/cable TV.

10 Least Favorite Things

1. Bus drivers,(like gods),who control the toilet key.
2. High altitude, thin air, and only one alpaca blanket
3. Rice and potatoes, all at the same meal.
4. Potholed roads, with slow repairs.
5. Losing my way in Quito, smelling auto fumes.
6. Getting adapted to the altitude, huffing and puffing.
7. Laundry shops that stole my best underwear.
8. Bug bites that itched and drove me a bit nuts at night.
9. Bungalows perched on stilts in pitch black darkness.
10. Monkeys bandits who pounce on me and grab my glasses.


"The Last Supper" in Quito

Here is a little funky cafe nearby my hostal, where I ate my last supper for $1.50. Tilapia fish wrapped in a banana leaf,rice, potatoes, salad and a juice drink. Josephina, who served the food, was amazingly agreeable to my taking her picture. Then she giggled and bragged to the other staff that her picture would be famous in San Francisco. Later she joined me at my table quizzing me about my marital status and of how number of children I have. Of course, she was cute and suggested I take her with me to San Francisco. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I played the game and said, "yes of course(por supuesto) I'd take her with me".

Then, I cheated and had a little salsa-salad to mix into my rice.
Normally, I never eat salads, because of the health risks. And now (I should know better) I´m feeling some loose after results.
Popping Pepto Bismo tablets and making my teeth pink.

I depart early tomorrow a.m, my bag is packed.....the clock is ticking. To my surprise, there was hot Latin pornography on my T.V and I really didn't need the english subtitles to figure out what was going on.

Upon my return to San Francisco, I will come up with my favorite and least favorite things about Ecuador.

Much Love.......


2 Days left in Quito - Churches and Architecture

I´ve returned to Quito, the capital city for the finale of my trip and plan to depart to S.F. on June 10. To my delight it is not as cold here as it was 6 weeks ago. Still, I have 3 alpaca blankets on my bed.

On Sunday, I attended Mass and enjoyed the live music, the incense filled church, the ethnic dancing and then followed a crowded procession down the street. People were tossing rose petals at the carried gold statue of the indegenous Black Jesus. I tried to blend in....but basically from my last weeks in Ecuador, it is impossible.

I´m noticing the altitude change again,(back up to 9,400ft) with a little shortness of breath, a little annoying cough. Quito is filled with car and bus fumes, which makes matters worse. This time I have a hotel in Öld Quito¨the historical area, with narrow cobblestoned streets, lovely architecture and lively, spontaneous events on the streets and plazas.

Walking toward the Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional


Close Encounters & Photos of Flowers + Butterflies

One day I felt so inspired to have a close up view of everything beautiful around me. A friend loaned me her jewelers' magnifying glass, which allowed me to be within an inch from a flower or an insect and to enter into another world.
Photos couldn't capture the same essence, but here they are.

I learned that butterflies always return to the same flowers and that I can be patient with my camera.


Crocodile Lagoon And My Near Death Experience

During the last evening of the Jungle trip, we were invited to take a 9pm night walk by flashlite, to search for crocodiles in the nearby lagoon. At night, I'm told if you shine the flashlite onto the red crocodile eyes, they light up (in the same way that the car headlights light up deer eyes) We had a group, which included 2 women besides me, our tour guide, and "Susan", an Ecuadorian man who loves to wear makeup. We walked carefully in the pitch dark, moonless evening on a ragged, muddy path high above the bank edge of the lagoon. I was told the lagoon is filled with caiman (crocodiles).
This reminded me a bit like my childhood "night walks" in Northern California looking for "big foot".

But unfortunately, we didn´t get too far around the lagoon. There was complete black darkness and I was the last one on the trail........who would think it could happen?

The soft ground gave away and I fell straight down the embankment and landed about 10 feet straight down directly into the swamp perhaps 3 feet from the side. It happened so quickly.....it was a soft, chocolate landing and my left foot (rubber boot) was stuck in the mud below the water, at about waist deep. Amazingly, I didn´t panic, but of course my first thought was ¨crocodile¨ and to get out as soon as possible. All I could do was reach out for the large root, but felt stuck and it was very slippery and slimy to hang onto. Come to think about it, I could have grabbed onto a crocodile and not known it. I called out to the group (but not too loud)¨I need help...please hurry!
To my rescue, I could hear thevoices of the 2 girls coming downhill,"Marina" a 21 y-o Red Cross lifesaver and "Susan" who apparantly didn't mind getting her makeup smeared. The girls were able to pull me out, after my failed slippery attempts. Basically, they saved my life and/or my body parts. Interestingly, the crocodiles remained asleep, because none were seen nearby.

After being helped to the top ....I was shaking and nauseous. But the good news was that I was not injured, except for some cuts and bruises to my hand and a sore hip. Sadly, my new Olympus camera and cell phone, tucked into my zippered pockets, were soaked and non-functioning.

So for now, it feels shaky to think about it.
What was my lesson? Why did I need it to happen to me?

When in the water, I felt very focused on getting out......I didn´t panic. Does that mean I´ve become brave in my older age?
Did I not panic because of my past years of emergency room experience,as a nurse.One thing I learned is that there are people right there, choosing to risking their own lives, to help otheres.
In the past few years, I have had a recurrant thought that if something happened to me and if I die, I am ready to go. I haven´t felt fearful of death....it almost feels comforting. I feel I´ve lived a good life and I´m at a good place in my life.But surely, I wouldn´t choose to leave my body in a traumatic way, like being eaten up by crocodiles.

And I wouldn´t want to leave without saying goodby to my son, family, and my friends.....to tell them how much they mean to me and how much I love them.

Later, I learned that these up to 10 foot long Caimans do not normally attack humans, but prefer small animals. They start to get hungry in the late afternoon and park themselves along the edges of the lagoon banks. I may have, in fact, scared them!
Still, I do not want to ever again test out this theory.


Spanish, Monkeys and the Jungle Tour

Many colorful parrots of Ecuador

A surprise last minute 2 night jungle tour to Puyo offered more than just one challenge for me. The Spanish speaking tour agency offered me a free trip for the weekend,  if I´d be willing to be the English interpreter for the tour group, who did not understand or speak Spanish. Although my Spanish is limited at best, perhaps the agency thought that having me was better than no interpretation at all. Admittedly, I was feeling some trepidation and feelings of  inadequacy.

The next morning arrived quickly after a poor night of sleep, and I was excited to get started.
To my relief, the tour group was a fun, friendly group and I surprised myself that I was able to understand enough Spanish to be helpful in the interpretation.  My years of Spanish lessons
were starting to pay off.

The trail was a little more slippery and muddy than I expected,  although our mid calf rubber boots came in handy.   At one point, we also needed to balance on an elevated log, in crossing a canyon over a rushing river. It began to pour and occasionally my boots sunk 5 or 6 inches into the mud, with my needing some help to break the suction and to be pulled out.  I thought about how awful it would be if it was real "quick sand", the kind I've seen in the movies.

These people in the tour group were European, in good shape, long legged and strong. We hiked through a monkey reserve area, with several monkeys following us and joyfully swinging from tree to tree.  Being somewhat used to people, they didn't seem to have any fear of us and wanted to continuously play and climb on us. I didn't like the part where they jumped on us.   But, it was fun to be followed by the monkeys and also viewed some animals that I had never seen before.   One monkey was hilarious when he rode on the back of the tour guide's dog.

One of the playful monkeys.

However, I was very nervous around them, ever since a few years ago, when a monkey jumped on
me and ran off with my necessary prescription glasses.  So, on this trip,  I felt safer when I pulled my rain jacket hood clear over my head and walked around with my glasses tucked into my bra. Yes.... basically I was walking around blind. 

There was an attractive 21 y-o Swiss girl named Marina, who felt overly confident when trying to play with the monkeys.  Unfortunately, that was a big mistake, as she took a nasty bite on her finger from a frisky, baby monkey.   Suddenly, I had a  flood of thoughts and fears about a deadly infection, weird parasites, unusual monkey diseases and life threatening rabies.   All I could do to help the girl was to squeeze the heck out of her finger, causing it to bleed and to expel the saliva that was injected into her from the monkey bite. We were too far out in the jungle to do anything else and no one in the tour agency thought of bringing a first aid kit. (only in Ecuador)

The first bungalow facility had no showers, but I could handle one night without a shower. Plus, I forgot to pack another pair of socks and this was a big mistake. Wet socks in the jungle do not dry out.....and they end up stinking.   Plus, irritating mosquito and spider (?) bites were added to the collection I already had, over my arms, legs, neck and back.
The second bungalow was near a river, a tributary of the Amazon, had a great view and fresh air.

That night we ate a hearty bowl of Armadillo soup (complete with a shell) and then a bonus dish of Rodent Stew. (no kidding) And as long as I didn't think about it or visualize the rodents,  it had a deliciously flavored sauce.  My motto was to try everything!

Armadillo - provided meat for our dinner soup.


A Day Trip with Mama Kinua in the Andes

Leaving chaotic, Cuenca, over gutted muddy roads, two American university students and myself were well received at a primitive, indigenous ¨Tarqui¨ home in the Andes highlands.

The elevation was near 10,000 ft, cold and damp, however with a spectactular view. The puffed up clouds were low enough to walk through...or was it just that we were high into the clouds? Upon arrival, the family served us hot sugar cane alcoholic drinks, we were told to keep us warm, which made perfect sense to me. Inside the smokey kitchen, the mujeres (women) were busy preparing our lunch, which highlighted the Ecuadorian specialty, "cuy" which
rhymes with "Roy". Cuy is their guiney pig,
with little beady eyes, usually served whole, with little
pointed ears and sharp claws.

Medicinal plants were proudly pointed out to us by Mama and we were given an explanation of their uses.

After some walking on the hill in the cow pasture, of course I managed to step into a ¨pie¨, while we were all trying to catch our breath due to the elevation.

Soon it was time for more sugar cane alcohol and then Almuerzo (lunchtime) A straw mat was spread out onto the ground, topped with a table cloth and then finally the lunch was poured onto the top. My guess was that the utensils were used for our benefit only. Several different kinds of beans, shreds of carrots, strips of salty beef, rice, curried pototoes and ¨Cuy¨were served.
To be honest, I was not crazy about the ¨cuy¨which was fatty, with a thick skin left on, as well as having a strong animal flavor.

We were entertained with what sounded like off -tune music of a flute and drum. (reminded me of when I first listened to Balinese dissanant music. I hated it, but years later grew on me)

Later, the women took pride in showing us how to spin wool into yarn, grind wheat into flower, and with smoking herbs, gave us each a healing or cleansing in the indigenous manner.

Heating up and stirring the cheese....small money making project after being given a donation from Europe.

Finally we were encouraged to try on their clothes, while they laughed and giggled. Previously to this event, I thought that the indigenous women were chubby from their high starch diet, but I found out it was the heaviness, the pleats and thickness of the wool skirt.

Just as it was starting to feel cold again, it was time for more shots of alcohol.

Of course, they were happy to have us contribute to their foundation for the health and education of their children. The living environment was very basic, for me it would be harsh, considering the cold weather, the high altitude and isolation from services of the city. There certainly weren´t any toys, or comfortable furniture, or nice appliances....just the bare basics.


Cuenca - Cathedrals, Corsages, Caps and Candies.

Although not as large as the capital city Quito, Cuenca has a population of 417,000 and was a little busier than I expected.
It is their winter now, so the days are about 65 degrees F and nights about 50 degrees F. After a couple of days, when I requested an extra alpaca blanket, the hotel gal surprised me with their only electric blanket....I was in heaven.

Cuenca is known for it´s beautiful architecture and for being a quaint, exotic city, where many expatriates live and have bought property for their retirement. This Cathedral is an example of the kind of architecture one might see. It truly was a beautiful city in many ways.

On one day, which I thought was Mothers Day, it seemed everyone had a bouquet of flowers in their hand, whether it be for their Mother or for themselves. I'm told Dia de Madre actually lasts an entire month in Ecuador.

One small sized, elderly lady wearing the typical, indigenous clothing walked on the sidewalk towards me, holding a bouquet of flowers and had a wide toothless grin. I smiled also because I thought ¨how beautiful¨ she is. Then a lovely surprise happened. Glowing and looking up to me, she spread open both of her arms for an embrace. I bent down to give her a hug, and then she kissed me on the cheek and said something sweet in Spanish. It was like receiving an Ecuador blessing, something warm and endearing, that I held close in my heart. This was the second time something like this happened in the last week.

Panama Hats are originally from Ecuador, not Panama. They became well known during the building of the Panama Canal, when workers wore thm to protect from the sun. And even now, there is a big market in Ecuador for these fine hats, that take several days in the making.

¨Day of the Dulce¨
(Day of Sweets) lasts 7 days and I´m not sure if it just Cuenca. I saw at least 20 such booths of brightly colored assorted candies. This is when everyone, men, women and children, indulge in filling up a basket of candy and chocolates. They love to indulge and here there is no such thing as feeling "guilty".


Chicken and Bull Penis Soup / Recipe

Chicken Consommé  and Bull Penis Soup are very popular.

Chicken Consommé has for example, chicken feet (as in photo) and organ parts such as liver or the heart. The popcorn is usually sprinkled on top of the soup, like croutons on salad.

Bull Penis Soup (La Sopa de Pene)
Attention, all my men friends and family.....
Here's a dish for the brave and the non queesy stomach and for those who need a boost.

Today's bull

Tomorrow's soup

In Ecuador, as well as some other asian countries, eating soup made from bull penis has much the same effect as viagra or cialis, increasing blood flow to the genitals, improving stamina and enhancing sexual desire. It is eaten in Ecuador primarily in summer-autumn and is usually eaten by boys who are going through a coming of age, when they have a special ceremony.  With  a little help from a local guide, I found it available in city of  Banos at the market.  It wasn't that hard to find, but I do wonder how fresh it was
Believe it or not, after all my scouting around, I didn´t have the balls to try it and when I asked about it, the men simply thought I was a crazy woman.

Reasons why you might try it:
1) because I'm told it is delicious.
2) to be adventurous.
3) in certain situations, to be polite.
4) in a medical emergency, to induce vomiting.

Tips for Preparation:
The bull penis should be fresh.....like what?
maybe after a bull fight?
Be sure to cut it open and wash well because of the placement of the urinary tract. You don't want the flavor of urine in your food. You want to chop the penis horizontally, not vertically for more tenderness. When it is cooked it will taste like beef with tendons.

Here's the recipe:
3 pounds of sliced up bull penis
1 large chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tsp salt freshly ground black pepper

Scald the penis, then drain and clean. Place the penis in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Remove any scum, then simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and slice. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and coriander and fry until the onion is golden. Add the penis slices and fry on both sides for a few minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a good grinding of pepper, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, or until tender. Add a little water from time to time if necessary to prevent burning.

This should be eaten on special occasions, whether you are a young male or an old male.

Perhaps, on my next trip I'll do a personal study to determine it's effectiveness!


Saraguro - Going Back in Time

After busing for 2 hours north from Vilcabamba throgh beautiful green hills/mountains, I arrived in Saraguro, an indigenous cattle ranching town of 4000 population. Instead of "yellow cabs", there were pickup trucks lined up and loading up people from the bus. Before I knew it, someone tossed my carryon suitcase in a pickup and off I was delivered to a little hotel that I selected from the tour book (one of 3 in town)

I was awakened by the crowing of roosters and the mooing of black /white speckled cows. Outside the "Hostal Seman Wasi" I ventured along the quiet country, cobble stoned, mud puddled streets. No other tourists were to be seen. The local people were dressed in their native clothes. Men and women wore white or black felt hats. Men sported a long black ponytail, black poncho and black knickers. Short and squat women wored heavy pleated black skirts, black shawls fastened with ancester hand me down pins. They seemed to walk with pride, even if they wore mucky black rubber boots.

Although everyone greeted me with smiles and "buenos dias", it felt strange to be the outsider in a city not set up for tourists.
I meandered around town, entered a market where little juice stands were popular and watched them whip up fresh juices with quail eggs -perhaps not so clean shells and all.

I ate breakfast in one place open called "Mama Cuchara", a non-profit association to help indigenous women with loans and education. Instead of menus, you speak your best Spanish and hope to get what you ordered.

For a small town, their central park was the most manicured, flowered in all of Ecuador, much like my father would have enjoyed. Older women sat in the park, busy spinning wool yarn into balls and were humming. They were clearly happy, chatted with each other, producing warm scarfs and sweaters. I was able to sneak one photo, trying not to be the obvious ugly tourist. I also tried not to look blonde......but failed....and did not blend in.
Although I enjoyed the experience of immersion, and sometimes this is the best part, I found myself on the 11:15am bus heading north to a larger city.


Vilcabamba Snake Juice - 2 shots and 5 years younger

A restaurant,Shanta's Bar, is off the beaten path on the road to Rio Yambala and is a great place to chill. Alongside the bar, is a row of well worn, horse saddle seats. The walls are lined up with animal skulls, if you like that kind of thing. And finally, you can't miss the dramatic jar of "snake juice" on top of the bar, which houses a snake curled up at it's bottom.

The outgoing, friendly owner named "Shanta", wore a cowboy hat and a seasoned, handlebar mustache. He sat at our table and encouraged my group to ¨para probar¨(try/taste) his "snake juice". When he boasted that just two shots of the juice would make us 5 years younger, we could not refuse his offer. Not being much of a drinker myself, taking just one sip not only burnt my throat but altered my voice. However, I believe I did the right thing after my sip, by following up with a bite of lime and lick of salt.

Shanta's Bar also proudly offered sauteed frog legs, filet mignon, as well as pizza choices. However this restaurant/bar is especially known for the "snake juice" and I believe this is the real secret to longevity in Vilcabamba.

Also, after 2 shots, I found that the "snake juice" tasted better and better!


Vilcabamba - Retirement ?

Not many towns are as relaxing and secluded as Vicabamba, population 4000. This is Ecuadorian cowboy country at it´s best with stunning green hills and mountains. The local, friendly people are laid back, while running little tiendas, cafes, organic farming and advertise horseback riding trips and massages. The weather here is warmer, considered "eternal spring" all year around. So far, perhaps because Ecuador has a higher elevation, and certainly not including the jungle, there are few bugs or mosquitos.

I heard about Vilcabamba from friends of mine, who built a home here for their part time retirement. This is the perfect inspiring location for musicians, artists, and anyone who is or wants to be creative. It is also extremely peaceful, with a small quaint downtown area.

I was delighted to stay at Jardin Escondido, a colorful little hotel, surrounded and hidden in the gardens. Several varieties of colorful birds and butterflies are enjoying the vegetations here.

Vilcabamba is known and famous as the ¨Valley of Lontevity¨, where people easily live to 100 years old and older. Perhaps the secret is the natural pure spring waters, or the organic, healthy foods available or what appears to be relaxed living? The locals I´m told, do work hard, walk everywhere and have no cars but utilize their horses and donkeys. To change statistics a bit, at least in the last few years, foreigners from all around the world are moving into the area, building houses and retiring here.

My three travel partners..George, Judy and Angela.

One day we all decided to go to an orphanage in Loja, about 45 minutes bus ride from Vilcabamba. We thought we did well in spanish, including getting and following directions, and receiving information about the facility. Even though we were told this was "the orphanage", the facility didn't really look like an orphanage and was more like a day care center/school. Whether it was or was not an orphanage, I was happy to unload-donate my art supplies and books, I'd taken with me from San Francisco. In a classroom we visited, there were about 15-20 kids. Anyway the administrator gave us a background in spanish and they were delighted to receive the donation. The children were so cute and then they clapped....and then all together in unison said, "gracias".

Another little adventure was to take a short horse tour around the town with our guide Julio. My thought was to finally face my fears about horses, since the last time I was on a horse, over 20 years ago, I was bucked off, and it resulted in a serious, painful, back fracture (with hospitalization and two months off work). Carefully,
I chose my horse from a book where guests wrote in about their horse experiences. Because the name, "Corazon" was mentioned so many times, I decided this was the horse for me. "Corazon" means ¨heart.....how very appropriate for me. She was a sedate, reliable, loving horse who liked to snack on weeds continuously along the way. Slowly...slowly, I began to trust Corazon that she wouldn't buck me off and it was then that it became a very healing experience for me. In the past, I've always loved horses!


Ingapirca - Inca Ruins at Sun Down

Ingapirca "Wall of Inca" is the most important Inca site in Ecuador and was built in the 15th century during the Inca expansion from Peru. The main structure, an elliptical platform, known as the Temple of the Sun, was used for ceremonial and religious purposes and appears a solar observatory. I was impressed by the mortarless stonework, in it's finist precision.

When I visited with my guide, the sun had set and we were the only ones on site. How awesome it was to have a panoramic view from it's higher location, looking out to the valleys and farmlands and mountains. I don't know if it was the higher elevation or what, but I certainly felt light hearted and almost as if I could levitate. It was completely silent,
semi-dark and there were dark clouds forming, while sprinkling some holy water on our heads.

I overnighted in a nearby small village, where there were few services open, and had a redundant large plate of rice/potatoes with chicken meat and complemented it with an always well deserved cerveza (beer).

At 4am, the village Church broadcasted really really loud music, which some songs about "Madre" and Jesus and found out they are honoring the mother. But 4am? I asked the lady at the hotel if she liked the 4am music and she had pulled a nasty face, telling me in a few words of Spanish that I understood, of how the priests were in charge of the village. She also showed me a painful, dark bruise on her right shoulder and chest, with very little mobility of her arm. There is no nearby doctor and she was adamant about not going to the doctor. She had a story of how she was milking the family cow and got kicked in the shoulder. Gave her a Reiki treatment, which she said helped the pain. When I saw the fear in the childrens eyes and also her withdrawn fear, I just didnt believe her story.


From Banos to Puyo, Jungle Tour, Shaman Healing

From Banos to Puyo, the road dips downhill and passes through a few underground tunnels, with spectacular views of a dozen waterfalls. For a closer look at one of them we took a small, cagelike cable car, which dangled and transported us high over the river gorge.

Later in a misty forested area, we followed a muddy jungle trail led by our tour guide - driver. We were accompanied by several monkeys swinging from tree to tree, as well as climbing our legs and jumping on our shoulders. Remembering a past Bali experience, I was not going to allow a monkey thief steal my glasses again nor my camera. So it was an interesting hike walking my glasses hidden away, while experiencing the sounds and smells and sensations.

Our guide was loved by the monkeys, sat on his shoulders, nibbled his ears and groomed his hair. He is the strong, sure footed, hunter, silent type. Surely he was not afraid of spiders or the 75 lb boa snake that wrapped around his neck. We canoed along the river in a funky, leaking boat along a tributary of the Amazon, looking for crocodiles.

Below is a short jungle video....warning...it's in Spanish!

Our lodge that night was more primitive than I expected. The bungalow was high upon wooden stilts, reached by climbing a dry rot latter. It was covered by thatch,
open aired at the top of the walls with thin foam mattresses. The bathroom...well...
down a trail somewhere. I woke up with a little monkey inside the room, silently checking me out on the other side of my mosquito net. CUTE but not to be trusted.

The owner of the lodge, his family and our tour guide cooked us dinner, barbequed fish wrapped up in a banana leaf, overly salted veggies, potatoes and an alcohol drink made of sugar cane.

Elva getting a healing/ black stone rubbing

The owner (?) is known to be a real Indian Shaman who gives healings. He offered us a treatment. Taking advantage of this, Alva and I stripped down to our waists, trying to create privacy, in a room of people. When I told him about headaches and back pain, he rubbed me all over with moist herbs with a black shiny stone. Then the fun part....he repeated took big swigs from
a bottle of forest herbs and alcohol. Then he proceded to spray and sputter the solution from his mouth all over me, including my face. As a finale, he gives both nipples a quick pinch.
Now I'm wondering? Is that the normal treatment?
Elva said she certainly didn't get it.