Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Did a little boy a great favor today at the park.  I was there with my two little charges - one who will soon by 5 and one who is 3 1/2.  This little boy's dad was happy that we showed up because his son, Carter, is an only child and they like for him to have interaction with other children.  He is four, so right in between my two.   Dad started a conversation with me, and we chatted about kids of that age and found that they were all in pre-school part time.  Got around to the fact that Carter won't sleep in his own bed at night.  I told his Dad that it was only natural for babies to want the protection of their parents at night. Other species don't leave their children unguarded and vulnerable.  If an infant of another species gets lost and finds itself alone, it howls and howls until Mama comes to fetch it home.  Humans are the only stupid ones.  The conflict comes when Dad wants Mom all to himself.  In other countries the family sleeps  together and I guess the kids just know about sex.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia on the subject:

One study reported mothers getting more sleep by co-sleeping and breastfeeding than by other arrangements.

It has been argued that co-sleeping evolved over five million years, that it alters the infant's sleep experience and the number of maternal inspections of the infant, and that it provides a beginning point for considering possibly unconventional ways of helping reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Stress hormones are lower in mothers and babies who co-sleep, specifically the balance of the stress hormone cortisol, the control of which is essential for a baby's healthy growth.

In studies with animals, infants who stayed close to their mothers had higher levels of growth hormones and enzymes necessary for brain and heart growth.

The physiology of co-sleeping babies is more stable, including more stable temperatures, more regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing than babies who sleep alone.

Co-sleeping may promote long-term emotional health. In long-term follow-up studies of infants who slept with their parents and those who slept alone, the children who co-slept were happier, less anxious, had higher self-esteem, were less likely to be afraid of sleep, had fewer behavioral problems, tended to be more comfortable with intimacy, and were generally more independent as adults.
However, a recent study (see below under precautions) found different results if co-sleeping was initiated only after nighttime awakenings. Co-sleeping from birth or soon afterwards is the norm except in some Western cultures.

I hope that my assurances that he was not "spoiling" his son, nor was he keeping him a baby, helped that Dad have more confidence in his and the mother's decisions to let Carter sleep with them if he needs to.  He will outgrow that need just as the young of every other species do.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Things I Learned the Hard Way

Things I Learned the Hard Way
Do not ever criticize your teenager in front of anyone.  Do it in private if it is something important.

Do not speak to your teenager in a tone that you don't want to hear coming back at you.  

Earn your child's respect, don't demand it.

If you are a father, make sure you teach your child life skills like how to change a tire, make simple repairs around the house, how to do laundry (lights and darks), what to do when the lights go out, how to treat the opposite sex, and, if you live in Arizona, how to take care of a pool.

If you are a mother, teach your child how to prepare one meal including appetizer and dessert, how to clean a bathroom, how to wrap a present, and how to manage money.

Of course this sounds sexist.  I am sorry, but I am old now and just trying to get the point across.

Have minimum standards but enforce them absolutely.  No, you may not go out in that shirt with "I Love Boobies" on it.  I don't care if it is from the Galapagos.

What you say to a teenager doesn't matter nearly as much as what you do.

Don't be a hypocrite.  Don't tell your teenager not to smoke while you burn through a pack a day.  Don't expect your teen to stay away from drugs if you have a beer the minute you get home from work.  

I am sure I will come up with lots more - stay tuned.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

What does God's voice sound like?


Kudos to Aaron Sorkin for writing an amazing rant for the character of Maggie on the HBO series Newsroom.  If you haven't caught any of the episodes, watch for HBO to run it again and be sure you don't miss a single line of this well-written script.

In this episode, the staff is rehearsing possible questions for potential Republican candidates if their network is awarded the presidential debate.  Maggie's suggestion for a question for Michelle Bachman is "What does God's voice sound like?" She convinces the staff that she is serious by pointing out that if Bachman is being truthful when she says that God told her to run for President, then she is a prophet and we should pay attention to everything she says.
 

And, of course, if she cannot answer the question, then she is not telling the truth and no one should vote for someone who lies to the American people. In response to criticism that the news anchor could not denigrate Christians in such a way, Maggie responds that she is standing up for herself, her family, her church and her congregation by revealing this "false prophet."


You may say that Aaron Sorkin is simply one of the liberals that run the media and television and so, of course he is going to get his punches in against the conservative Bachman supporters.  But the important question here is "What DOES God's voice sound like?" Would you want your news anchor to ask such questions of candidates and hold their feet to the fire of public scrutiny?


Does anyone out there remember Ross Perot?  In 1992, 20 years ago, he gained a following by talking to voters as if he believed they could actually understand the issues.  I remember because it made such an impression on me.  He went on national television and for one half hour did a presentation that now would be done with Power Point, but he used charts and an old-fashioned pointer to explain in clear language what his economic policy was. He advocated a novel idea: that we do away with Medicare and Social Security for "those who don't need it." those like Warren Buffet, no doubt.  Twenty years and we are still having the same conversation!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pissed Off by Political Ad

I just saw an Obama ad on TV that really pissed me off.  And it started out with the old "I am Barack Obama and I approved this ad" so you can't say he didn't know about it.  This ad was focused on Mitt Romney's tax rate.  It should be illegal to make statements like that without explaining that Romney, along with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and tons of other wealthy people pay low tax rates because most of their income is from long-term capital gains which is taxed at a lower rate FOR EVERYONE!

All you have to do is google: Why does Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than most?  Here's what comes up.

"Romney released his 2010 tax return in January after intense pressure, showing that he paid a 13.9 percent effective rate on $42.5 million in income. His tax rate, lower than that paid by most middle-class filers, was because most of his income came from investments."

Here is a quote from the Tucson Sentinel:
"Robert Farley
A new ad from the Obama campaign claims that Mitt Romney "paid only 14 percent in taxes—probably less than you." That depends. Romney paid a federal income tax rate that is higher than the income tax rate paid by 97 percent of tax filers. But if you include a combination of income taxes and payroll taxes — which make up the bulk of federal taxes for most taxpayers — the ad is accurate.

The ad, called "Stretch," is the first to feature a report from the Tax Policy Center that concluded a plan like Romney's proposal for across-the-board tax cuts, together with the goal of remaining revenue neutral, would ultimately raise taxes on people making less than $200,000 a year. The ad contrasts those findings with data from Romney's 2010 tax return.

The ad begins with a narrator stating, "You work hard, stretch every penny, but chances are you pay a higher tax rate than him: Mitt Romney made $20 million dollars in 2010, but paid only 14 percent in taxes—probably less than you."

I hope that what people come away with after watching this ad is that they need to learn more about investing their money so that one day their entire income can consist of capital gains and they, too, can pay a lower tax rate.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Is Ecuador Poor?

It was clear immediately that Ecuador is a poor country.  What was not clear, and still is not, was why.  I couldn't help but compare China and Ecuador since I visited them both within the space of three months.  China has pulled 400 million people up from poverty and has not sacrificed the culture to do it. Actually, one website says the number is 600 million people.  Wikipedia states that there has been a decline in the poverty rate in China from 85% in 1981 to 16% in 2005.

When we visited China we were astounded by the amount of new construction being done.  In Beijing the government had to designate an area containing the hutongs as "national treasures" and protect them from the bulldozers.  

Otherwise, soon there would be nothing left of the old China except the Forbidden City.  Everyone has heard of the Three Gorges Dam project which has provided power for a great expansion of modernity but has wiped out many towns and villages where families had lived for hundreds of years.  All of those people were relocated, and I doubt that they were ever asked whether they were in favor of the project or not.  When the great Reform and Opening began in 1978, China's economy began to grow.  In the second phase of this program, the country was opened to foreign investment and in a short time China became second only to the US as an economic power.  

In Ecuador, there is some new construction taking place, but it appears to be single-family homes, or condo complexes to sell to Americans wanting to live on their social security income.  There are few, if any, office buildings being built to house foreigners working to bring prosperity to an emerging country.  Nor did we see any factories, plants, major infrastructure projects or even sports facilities being built.  Admitedly, we did not spend much time in Quito or in Cuenca, and I am sure we would have seen more evidence that we were still in the 21st century had we been there.  But we did travel around quite a bit on busses, and everywhere we went was the same.  

Unpainted concrete block structures that looked like the least tremor from one of the many volcanoes would send them tumbling down.  There was very little effort made to make the environment appealing and pleasant.  In Cotacachi, on Leather Street, the shops were very attractive and clean, but, of course, the majority of their customers are foreigners.  The condo complex where we stayed likewise was beautifully landscaped and the painters were working to freshen up the exterior while we were there.  Again, mostly for Americans.  When we got out into the countryside, some of the dwellings were deplorable.  Even in the beach community of Puerto Lopez, the streets were dirt, the chickens roamed at will, and starving stray dogs begged at every restaurant.

We visited the Temple of Heaven garden in Beijing and loved seeing the people playing cards, mahjong, and exercising together in the park.
In Ecuador, people worked every day it seemed, and especially on Sunday when they worked in the marketplace selling produce, fruit, or flowers.
 


In China there was a feeling of striving, a sense that every person, even the eldest, were working hard to improve their lives and make their country better. I never got that sense in Ecuador.  Perhaps that's why Americans are flocking there to live.  They want to spend their retirement years where there is no pressure to accomplish anything.  


Thursday, August 02, 2012

Reflections

We have been home for two days now, and our experience in Ecuador is beginning to be processed in our brains.  My very first thought as we drove home from the airport was how beautiful this country is.  The roads, the landscaping, the homes we pass, even the shopping centers - they all looked lovely after the concrete walls and concrete houses we saw in Ecuador.  When I drove to Sarah's house the next morning to pick up the kids, I realized that every family that lived in one of the houses in Seville lives in a house that only the richest families in Ecuador have.  

However, I truly missed the wonderful markets in Ecuador when I went grocery shopping today.  Pineapples were $1.00 for three in Cotacachi.  In Queen Creek I paid $3.99 for one!  Bananas were 79 cents a pound here; there they were 5 cents each.  But I could buy everything I needed at one store rather than going to several different shops.

It will take a bit longer to decide whether the lack of government interference in people's lives in Ecuador works better than the overwhelming intrusion of the government into every facet of our lives here.  It is pretty clear that when people are spending so much of their time just providing for the necessary basics for their families they don't have time to worry about a lot of other things.  They also don't have time for leisure activities.  We never saw a single movie theater in our entire time in Ecuador.  Nor did we see any professional baseball stadiums, basketball arenas, or football stadiums.  I am sure there are soccer stadiums somewhere, but probably only in the largest cities.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weaver's Museum

On Friday, I almost wanted to just stay home, but Ron said that if we didn't go back to Paguche and climb up to the top of the falls I would definitely regret it.  So I packed my collapsible cane and off we went.  This time we took the bus to Otavalo and then asked where we could get a bus to Paguche.  It was just across the street from the big bus station, and we only had to wait about 10 minutes.  The bus dropped us off right at the gate to the falls.  Since we had been there before we knew where we were going.  The first time we went we were surprised that so few people were there.  Well, not today!  There were at least four school buses and the place was jumping with hundreds of kids.  We found the path going up and I got my cane ready.  It was about a 200 foot climb to the top, and I made it.  Some great pictures from up there.  By the time we started down, all the kids were starting up.  They were so cute, though.  They all said "buenas Dias" or "hello.". One young man stopped us and asked where we were from and said "Welcome to my country." I doubt if American kids would do that.


We walked down the road to the bus stop and waited for a bus to come by.  Soon enough one came toward us.  I asked the driver if he was going to Otavalo and he said "Si, si." when we arrived at the bus terminal Ron whipped out his little Otavalo map and we headed for the main square.  We thought there would be restaurants around the square.  There usually are, but not this time.  We had to walk up and down a few streets before we found a good place.   After a very ice lunch topped off with fresh strawberries and cream, we set off to find the museum of the weavers.

Of all the things we have seen and done in Ecuador, this may have been the most enjoyable.  First, the entrance did not look like a museum, it looked like a restaurant or cafe.  Off to the far right of the path was a small door that said "Museo."I opened the door but it looked like a storeroom or something.  I ducked back out and I guess I must have looked puzzled because the woman outside waved me on and nodded vigorously saying "Si, Si."We ventured on and crossed a courtyard to another old, rickety door.  When we opened that one it was obvious that this large room contained old artifacts having to do with wool, spinning, and weaving. Before we could get our bearings an old indigenous man came in.  He started talking to us, but soon realized that we spoke only "poco Espanol." He was very considerate and patient.  He spoke slowly and watched us carefully to see if we were getting was he was telling us.  He explained how the sheep are sheared, then the wool is washed.  He sat down and took a handful of wool and demonstrated the carding process.  After he had the wool carded and rolled into a long strand, he went over to the spinning wheel and spun it into yarn.  We went all around the room, from station to station with him telling us what was done at each stage.  I shot video of him at several spots.  Finally he showed us a magazine with a photo of his son who is a professor of neuroscience in California.  Another son was shown shaking hands with Fidel when he was in Ecuador, but we didn't get what this sons occupation is.  He was obviously very proud of them.  Before we left, he led us over to a framed certificate, embellished with gold, and displaying a medal on a ribbon.  He made it clear that he was awarded the medal, but we don't know for what.  We made a contribution to the museum, or to Señor Maldonado, and left, feeling that we had experienced a truly special treat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mud Massage

On Thursday we decided to go back to Chachimbiro for a massage and the thermal pools.  It is a trek to get there, though.  First is a 45 minute bus to Ibarra, then a 30 minute bus to Urququi, then a $6.00 taxi ride up to Sacre Aqua. But this time we found where to go to pay for a massage, and only had to wait a few minutes for my therapist to be ready.  She told me to take my suit off down to the waist and lie on the table face down.  I couldn't see what she was doing, but I could tell she was using oil or something.  Then she used hand gestures to indicate I should turn over. Well, I am accustomed to the very modest ways of Massage Envy, not the customs of a country where women just pull up their blouses and nurse their babies anywhere, no matter how many people are around.  This time there was no sheet at all.  It was strange, but when in Rome or in Ecuador, you just go with it.  I just kept my eyes closed, and she finished the massage with my face.  When she told me to get up, I opened my eyes and saw that I was covered in a reddish-yellow mud.  she told me to sit in the sun for 10 minutes and then go rinse off in the shower.  Ron took pictures, and after I was no longer brown we went into the jacuzzi.
  

We spent several hours soaking in the various pools, had our lunch that we had prepared, then left to wait for the bus back to Ibarra.  Just down the road that leads to the place where the buses park were a couple of little stores and a concrete bench to sit on.  We parked ourselves there with our bags.  Soon two little girls came walking up and talked to an older girl, probably their sister, who seemed to be watching the shop and also watching a baby who was strapped into a tricycle/stroller gizmo.  One of the little girls came over to me and pointed to my camera.  I took her picture and showed it to her.  Her eyes lit up and she started pointing to her sisters, so I framed the shot, then took her hand and put her finger on the button and pushed it down.  Then showed her the picture.  We yelled "you did it!" She was delighted.
 

We took pictures of all of them and she was practically in my lap by that time.  We told them we had to go to the bus, so said goodbye.  However, when we got to the bus he wasn't ready to go yet so we had to wait some more.  Sure enough, here they came again.  This time they had some little packets of powdered candy.  Looked like Kool-Aid.  The more friendly of the girls grabbed my hand, turned it palm up and poured some in my palm.  God, it was awful tasting stuff, bur I didn't let her see me toss it on the ground.  In a few minutes, she ran back and gave me another portion.  Ron remembered that we had some bandy in our bag, so I got that out and gave it to them.  Now we were friends forever.  When the bus started up, they both shouted "Ciao, ciao," and we blew kisses to them.  Great moment!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lake of Blood

Haven't written anything since we returned to Cotacachi, so will catch up today.  We were so wiped after our exploring that we just chilled, watching "Big Bang Theory."And talking with family on FaceTime.   Tuesday we did take the bus to Ibarra and took a taxi to the "Lake of Blood."There weren't very many people there but we did meet Herb, a guy about our age from Boynton Beach, Florida.  He is here doing pretty much the same thing we are-exploring possibilities in Ecuador.  He spent two weeks in Quito living with a local family and taking a Spanish course.  Then he spent a week in Otavalo during which time he visited Cotacachi.  He plans to go to Cuenca for a bit, too.  He told us a lot about San Miquel de Allende in Mexico, the place Kyle mentioned to us as another possibility. We hung out with him for quite a while waiting for them to take the tour boat out on the lake.  Turned out he had lived in New Jersey for about 30 years, has a brother in Toms River, graduated from Montclair State and now lives in Florida.  Small world, isn't it?After about half an hour, we decided to ask when they were going to take the boat out.  Now she tells us, not enough people so can't go.  Bummer!


Herb suggested we share a taxi back to Ibarra, so it only cost us $1.00.  The taxi dropped us off at the museum in town and we spent a while touring it.  Very nice museum, nicely laid out and displays were well done. After the museum we walked around the park and found a nice restaurant to have lunch.  I had chicken in a delicious sauce, with rice, French fries, and salad.  Ron had only French fries and salad, but the best part was my lemonade and Ron's juice that tasted like strawberries.  Best lemonade I've ever had. After lunch we tried to find a bus to go to the woodcarving town of San Antonio de Ibarra.  Gave up after 10 or 15 minutes and took a taxi.  We cannot learn that all the shops close for siesta, so since we were there about one o'clock, there wasn't much open.  Just as well-most of the stuff was unattractive, and we couldn't find anything we wanted to buy.  We saw lots of buses coming and going, so we flagged one down and hopped on.  We even managed to see where we needed to get off to go back to the bus station for the bus back to Cotacachi.  We are getting pretty good at getting around on buses.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Future Latino Rock Star

Today is Sunday, and we are taking a day of rest. It is market day, though, so we went and bought veggies and fruit for the coming week. Also stopped in at our nearby Super Mercado for some dish soap and my Chilean wine-in-box. In general, there are high taxes on things that are deemed "luxuries" such as high-end hotel rooms, alcohol, electronics, and airline tickets. But we found this wine and think it is pretty good, and it is only $6 for the box which lasts several days. In the plaza near the market there was a family of indigenous Ecuadoreans who were playing and singing. The group consisted of a father and his two sons. The daughter was working the crowd selling CD's for $2. Mom was doing the off-stage work and watching the baby. They were great and I have posted a video on You Tube so you can see a future Latino rock star. Watched the Open Championship and were thrilled to see Ern ie win another major. He is so gracious and easy to like. Tiger had a tough day, but held it together admirably.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tena Is Hot and Humid

Friday-Banos to Tena Breakfast was included with our room, and it came with good, delicious coffee for a change.  Not Nescafé.  Also a glass of some sort of red juice that we couldn't identify, but that tasted yummy.  Their idea of a pancake, however, is what we call a tortilla, and mine came filled with fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.  My favorite kind of breakfast.  We checked out and the total was $55.   We took a taxi to the bus station and found out how to get a bus to Tena.  Had to wait a while, but Ron found a couple from Calgary to chat with.  The bus was late, the first delay we have experienced, but soon we were on our way.  The buses are comfortable, the seats recline, and on any ride long enough they show a movie.  The other day we saw "Desperado" with Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek, and today "Pulp Fiction" was playing.  The sights out the window were more interesting than the movie,though.  The bus route follows the course of the river, but winds along a serpentine road, through mountain tunnels, rocking back and forth so that my iPad screen keeps switching views.  I almost killed Ron trying to give him a bite of banana.  He had his mouth open and I held the banana up just as the bus lurched around a curve and the banana disappeared down his throat!  He has adopted the little camera and is snapping shots like crazy.  He loves digital, but between the photos I take, the ones he takes, and the ones we downloaded from Bills camera, we easily have over a thousand shots so far. We noticed that the people in the Oriente province that we have seen are taller and thinner than the people around Imbabura.  Wonder why?  Also, we saw a lot more men smoking in Ambato.  maybe the city folks have more money than the people in the country or small towns do.  But there are some things that just seem unusual to us.  For instance, in the bus stations, they have people yelling, "Quito, Quito, Quito," or "Puyo, Tena" rather than loudspeakers making announcements like we are used to. After a long bus ride (the last hour of which some woman's stomach was pressing on my shoulder shoving me into Ron who was by the window because she and a bunch of others had to stand up for lack of seats) we finally pulled into Tena.  OMG!  The worst bus station yet. Crumbling concrete benches, no restrooms at all, people selling food all over the place (there are apparently no sanitation standards in Ecuador), and grubby little children trying to entertain themselves by climbing on some abandoned pipe structure.  The guidebook says that the bus station is in the less attractive part of town and not to be put off by first impressions.  Oops, too late.   At least La Casa del Abuelo is a nice, clean, welcoming hostel.  Has a patio, AC, wifi, and TV.  The beds are comfortable, and if we have to just stay in this room until time to leave tomorrow, then that's what we will do. Unfortunately, a bunch of other Americans thought this was the place to stay, and they were in the room next door.  At 2:30 am, the baby woke up.  They must have been trying to get him to give up his bottle because he screamed like Willie used to when we were trying to wean him.  He would scream for 10 minutes, quiet down for 2 minutes, then scream for another 10 minutes.  This went on for about an hour before they finally shut him up.  Then the dogs started barking.   Breakfast was another surprise.  This time it was lukewarm water, instant coffee and eggs I didn't order.  Soon the young man brought some boiling hot water, and some hot milk, so eventually we got a halfway decent cup of coffee after I poured two other attempts on the potted plants.   After breakfast we walked across the bridge to Cafe Tortuga where we had heard they had a bus schedule.  Sure enough, we found that there was a bus to Quito at 10:00.  Grabbed a cab to the bus station and didn't have to wait long for the bus.  Ron made a gallant effort to ask the bus driver if there was a place we could get off and catch a bus to Otavalo without having to go all the way to the Quitumbe (southern) terminal.  We thought he understood, but weren't sure.  Happily, four young American students got on the bus, and we talked to them for the length of their ride.  One of them spoke fluent Spanish and so Ron asked him to ask the driver where we could get the Otavalo bus, so we were sure that the driver understood and would tell us where to get off.   So you know, of course that they didn't stop and let us off anywhere, but continued on to the station an hour across Quito.  Ron was steaming.  However, the bus drivers assistant was so sweet - he went with us into the station and even went upstairs to the tickets windows to make sure these demented old people who couldn't understand Spanish could get on the damned bus to Otavalo.  Bought tickets and only had to wait 20 minutes for the bus.  The worse part of the trip home was the bus from Otavalo to Cotacachi.  One bus was pulling out when we paid our taxi driver, so Ron ran and caught it, barely stopping it in time for me to climb ungracefully on board.  There were no more seats on the bus, so we had to stand, until enough people got off and freed up some seats.   It is funny how a place you have been in only two weeks can seem so familiar and welcoming.  Strolling down Leather Street felt known and comforting after four days away.  

The baths at Banos

Thursday We stayed at the somewhat seedy hotel in Ambato, but it had the most comfortable bed we have found in Ecuador, with a heavy quilt to keep us toasty.  We had breakfast at C'bastian's.  I had a waffle with yogurt and honey, no butter, no syrup.  Even the waffles are a healthier version.  Ron had huevas rancheros, but when it came, it looked like French onion soup.  After breakfast we took a taxi to the bus stop to take a bus to Quizapincha, where they supposedly make a lot of the leather goods that are sold in Cotacachi. I tried on a few leather jackets, but they were made for the smaller Ecuadorean people and felt tight, not comfortable.  And the prices were much more than the guidebook had promised.  I did see a bag that I liked, mainly because it had a woven pattern that was similar to the bedspread on our bed in the condo.  At the same shop I saw a pair of sandals that were only $13.  The owner sold us the bag and the sandals for $22.  We then hopped a bus back to Ambato. We thought we would go from Ambato to Tena, but I started reading about Banos, a town on the way to Tena.  There are many mineral baths in Banos, heated by the nearby volcano which is only 5 miles away to the south.  The guidebook advised to check the status of the volcano before going there since there is a risk of another eruption.  I ignored that advice and we got off the bus in Banos.  Found a lovely hostel, Isle de la Banos, just blocks from the mineral springs.  There was a restaurant, Cafe Hood, where we went for lunch.  I had yet another great burrito, with some of the worlds best guacamole.  Ron had enchiladas and claimed they were the best he had ever eaten. Plus he ordered a drink that was hot passion fruit juice with the local cane liquor.  Oooh, it was delicious!  We strolled around the pretty park and took some photos, then went back to our room until time to go to the hot pools around 7 pm.  we watched the US national team play Great Britain and win.  I saw my boy, James Harden, playing with all the big-time stars. As soon as it was dark, we walked the few blocks to the baths.  We paid the "tercera erad" or senior rate so it was $1.50 each.  It was really crowded, mostly with locals, but felt wonderful.  There was a light drizzle falling, but the water was like a hot, hot bath, with steam rising into the cool air.  We left that pool and went to the pool that was "medium" hot, but right under the waterfall.  What a treat.   Am so glad we stayed in Banos.  It is a lovely town and there are quite q few ex-pats living there.  Our hostel is owned by a German, and we saw many restaurants that cater to foreigners. Watched The Big Bang Theory and went to sleep in a hard, firm bed with another of those heavy quilts that kept us warm.

Ambato? No!

Wednesday This was Bill and Verdas last day in Ecuador.  We got a guy in Cotacachi to drive us to Quito in his van for $50, so we split it.  We got dropped off at the bus terminal so we could get a bus to Latacunga.  For a little bit, I thought we were in an episode of Amazing Race. There were no ticket windows that said Latacunga, and everyone we asked just yammered at us in super fast Spanish. It was pretty dicey until we figured out that we had to go to a different bus terminal.  One taxi driver told us he would take us for $30.   You know me, I uttered a few choice words that I don't know the Spanish for, but another man approached us and offered to take us for $10.  It turned out that Quito is a very, very large city, and the new bus terminal in the south was about as far away from the terminal where we were as you can get.  It did, in fact, take us an hour to get there, but once there, it was a piece of torte.  The bus to Ambato was comfortable and the views were incredible.  Cotopaxi is the largest volcano in Ecuador and it is a grand sight. Staying in a sleazy hotel for $26 per night.  It's clean and has tv and wi-fi. But scratch Ambato off the list of possibles. Loud, lots of crazy traffic-kind of a 42nd Street and Broadway feel. Not at all "tranquillo.". We will be out of here first thing in the am.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Condor Parque

Tuesday, July 17 Another great day in Ecuador!  We left the condo this morning and took the bus to Otavalo (our favorite bus terminal so far).  Then we got a taxi to take us to the Condor Park.  This is a beautiful setting for the rehabilitation of rescued birds of prey.  "Birds that find refuge here have been rescued from inadequate sites, donated from other centers, or put under our care by the Ministry of the Environment." There were birds flying free, and then returning to their handler, lots of birds just tethered so that we could get great pictures of them, and then many owls in enclosures.  We enjoyed our time there so much! We got a ride back to Otavalo, and had him drop us off at Plaza de la Ponchos so we could have lunch.  We found a restaurant that we had been to before, so we knew it was good.  After lunch we browsed around the market and I bought gifts for Faye and Ella and Ron bought a tee shirt.  Then back to the bus station and home.  One funny thing was that a guy got on the bus holding a rooster in his arms, cradling it like a baby.  That rooster sat quietly in his arms til time to get off .  No end to the unusual things you see when you travel outside your comfort zone.

Chachimbiro Mineral Springs

Monday Well, today was a really nice day.  We went to Chachimbiro to the mineral springs that are fed from the volcano.  First we had to go to Ibarra, then take a bus to Urququi, then a taxi up to the springs.  But once we were there, it was only $4 to have access to the entire complex with its multiple hot pools.  We had changing rooms, we could check our belongings, and they had picnic tables where we ate our delicious lunch of tuna sandwiches, bananas, and chips. The pools were so relaxing; I am sure Ron and I will go back.  I want to get a massage next time.  A full massage is $10.  Or maybe a mud bath. We took a bus from Chachimbiro all the way to Ibarra, and then got a bus back to Cotacachi.  However, we had not been on a bus at rush hour before.  Apparently, a lot of workers go to Ibarra to work, and come home on the bus.  They packed that bus to the roof!  Some guy was standing up right beside me and I couldn't turn my head or my nose would have hit the zipper in his pants! After we got home, we cooked all our goodies from the produce market on Sunday.  We boiled potatoes, cooked the corn, and the peas.  It was delicious!  What fresh, healthy food.  This is the best thing about Ecuador.

Return from the coast

Saturday We were up at 5:30 am to wait for a taxi to take us to the airport.  Ron went out before I was ready, and when he stepped out on the porch, there was a guy in Ninja gear sitting there with a rifle across his knees.  A bit unsettling, to say the least.  The Ninja did call us a cab, and we arrived at the airport before even the coffee shop was open.  Needless to say we were anxious to get a cup of caffeine and something to eat.  Finally the door was unlocked and we got coffee - if you can call it that.  Most horrible stuff I ever tried to drink!  And we thought they had croissants, but when we asked the barista said they were filled with beef or chicken.  I am so sorry, but I just can't eat chicken for breakfast.  So, we dug around in our emergency food bag and found some Chips Ahoy.  That was breakfast - two cookies and undrinkable coffee.  So off we went to Quito. When we landed at Quito, we saw a sign for Dunkin Donuts.  We got two coffees and two sugary donuts each.  I would never do that at home!  Then we got a taxi to the bus terminal.  The ride from Quito to Otavalo was routine by now.  It was Saturday, so it was market day in Otavalo.  We shopped a bit and I bought a gift for Nan.  We also had lunch.  A great lunch.  I found a place that had burritos!  Real burritos with beans, rice, beef, cheese, and salsa.  So good. Then we caught the bus back to Cotacachi.  Bill and Verda were a couple of hours behind us, but they arrived and we had soup and tomatoes and avocado for dinner.  Verda makes great chicken and rice soup!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Horrible bus ride

Friday What a day!  Wouldn't do it again for anything.  We had arranged for a moto-taxi to come pick us up at 9 am to take us to the "prettiest beach in Ecuador." It was a longish ride in this little rickshaw affair, and not even a pretty trip.  The landscape isn't very attractive.  And it's cluttered with trash and tumbled-down shacks.  People are cooking right out on the street, or selling bottles of soda and water from a styrofoam cooler.  Once we arrived at the beach, it was as advertised.  Very pretty, no people at all, and hordes of little crabs scuttling from their holes to the water and back again.  Bill and Ron hiked up to the lookout at the top, while Verda and I sat on the beach. Then we rode the moto-taxi back to Puerto Lopez.  We picked up our luggage at the hosteria and all piled back into the taxi for the ride to catch the bus to Manta.  What a miserable ride for 2 1/2 hours!  And without food!  I had some fruit and a roll for breakfast, then nothing for lunch.  By the time we got to Manta, I was ready to scream.  We checked into our hotel and pretty quick went to eat.  Found a restaurant, and everyone had something good.  I had fried shrimp and it was yummy.  Good French fries, too.   Now, it's time for bed cause we have to get up at 5 to get our flight back to Quito.  It will be good to get back to our condo.

Humpbacks and Boobies

Thursday This morning we had reservations to go out on a boat tour, guaranteed to see whales.  I was a bit unnerved to see that we had to wade out to the boat to get on board, but it turned out that it was only calf deep, so no danger of the cameras getting wet.  It took about a half hour of pretty fast motoring to get out to where the whales were hanging around.  It was really exciting when we saw the first spout and the humpback breached.





  We both took a lot of photos, and we each got one terrific shot;  a whale in front of one of the other boats, and a fluke. After about an hour or so of chasing whales, we turned around and zoomed back toward Puerto Lopez.

The captain drove the boat right up to a rocky cliff, and pointed out all the blue-footed boobies on the rock.  There were thousands of them!  I must have taken 100 shots.  A few are framable.  A few people on our boat went snorkeling, but not us.  It turned out to be a very nice tour.  The people were great, and we met a girl who is in the Peace Corps here in Ecuador.  Her name was Nickie and we saw her again at the hot dog place for dinner. When we got back to the hostel we asked for a blanket.  The guy brought us a quilt and we slept so much better. Don't know why we were too stupid to not ask them for one the night before.

Puerto Lopez

What an unending dump!  Why would people choose to live this way?  What is the education level of the population?  Long stretches of roads look like the slums of India or Mexico.  Mangy dogs running around in every town we go to.   There are two things I like: they don't drink and they don't smoke.  Apparently they don't have enough disposable income to be able to do either one.  Liquor is phenomenally expensive.  Ron had a scotch in the place at the beach and it was $5, but my small (Coke-sized) bottle of wine was $11.  There were two glasses of wine in it, so that's more than $5 per glass. A 200 year old house in Beijing is better maintained, cleaner and nicer than a house here that may only be 25 years old.   These people seem to have no pride whatsoever.  In Cotacachi the shops are neat, clean, nicely lit and the goods are well displayed.  And our condo is up to American standards.  Must be the money that flows into Cotacachi. I guess I shouldn't be so harsh. Maybe all these people are just scrambling to get enough money for today's food. We can't figure out whether paint is something they think they can do without because it is expensive, or whether they just never get around to finishing a building. Whatever, it is not very attractive when all you see is concrete block.

Disillusioned

Ok, so we arrived in Puerto Lopez and were instantly accosted by a half dozen men babbling at us in Spanish, opening notebooks with pictures of various hosterias, tour boat operations, and god only knows what else.  We just got into their version of a rickshaw which is a motor scooter with a two-seat buggy attached.  We did manage to tell the drivers that we wanted to go to Itapoa, a Hosteria we saw in our guidebook.  He took us there, but they were full, so they pointed to another one in their picture book.  This place, Nantu, had rooms for $33 per night, so we said yes.  But, in my opinion it should not be classified as a Hosteria.  There is nothing but a pair of sheets on the bed, only two towels, no washcloths, no hand towels, no bathmat.  Not even a glass to put water in to take my pills!  All I know at this point is that the whale watching had better be fucking phenomenal! I don't understand yet why no American or European companies operate in Ecuador.  I have not seen any advertisements for Apple products, can't find any Hershey's  chocolate, or any other things we assume would be sold everywhere.  There are two things we have seen: Chevy cars and Dial soap.

Off to the Coast

Got up when the alarm app on my iPad sounded out the cuckoo's song.  Had two cups of coffee and a banana and we were off. The bus ride to Otavalo was routine, now that we have done it so many times.  One of the dozens of bus hawkers came to fetch us for the bus to Quito.  It was a comfortable bus, and I actually slept a bit on the way to Quito.  When we arrived at the bus terminal, there was a taxi line and we had no trouble getting a taxi to the airport.  The Quito airport is small and we easily found the Tame Airline desk.  However, we were told that there was a problem with our reservation.  We had to go outside and get in a different line to get it straightened out.  When we gave the agent our ticket, she explained that the travel agent had failed to confirm our reservation, so we had seats on the way to Manta, but not to return.  So now we will have to fly back to Quito on Saturday morning at 8 am instead of at 1:30 pm.  Which means that we will have to go back to Manta Friday evening. The flight to Manta was only about 30 minutes, but I can't remember when a flight hurt my ears so much.  It took hours for them to pop enough that I could hear.  Once we landed, there were taxis, and we got a driver to take us a Hosteria so we could make a reservation for Friday night.  Then he took us to the bus terminal.  What unbelievable chaos!  We were so recognizable as "rich American tourists" we were almost trampled by men trying to get us a room, or a bus, or a tour, or something - I never found out what exactly, that it was almost frightening.  I yelled at Bill that we needed to eat - it was 1:30 and I hadn't had anything since that banana in the morning.  And, Nan, you know what that meant!  We found what looked like a restaurant, but the selection was pretty slim.  The other three ordered fish, which they said was good, but it was fried, and I didn't know what they might have used to fry it in, so I ordered chicken and fries.  The chicken was so-so, the fries were mediocre, but they can't mess up Pepsi in a bottle. We went back into the bus terminal and didn't have too much trouble buying tickets to Puerto Lopez, our final destination.  Our plan is to take a boat tomorrow to do some whale watching, go to Isle de la Plata, and I guess they take you snorkeling, too.  Then, we have Friday morning here at the hostia Nandu before we have to check out and go back to the madness that is Manta. This part of Ecuador is beyond ugly.  The shacks that people live in are maybe one step up from mud huts.  The kids are running around in the dust, the starving dogs follow anyone in hopes of a scrap of food,  the most sturdy buildings are concrete block, no paint, no decoration at all,  might as well be a prison.  I could never live here.  It amazes me that in China, where people have lived for thousands of years, there are modern buildings going up everywhere, world-class shopping, education for everyone, and a feeling that everyone is moving forward.   There is nothing modern about Ecuador.  America has nothing to fear from Ecuador!

New Shoes for the Pop-Pop

Tuesday we stayed close to home.  Ron and I walked down Leather Street to see if we could find a wallet for me and sandals for him.  A few blocks from our square Ron found a shop selling huaraches which he liked better than the other leather sandals.  The guy told him they were $42, so he came outside to find me.  I was in another shop looking at wallets.  I found a green one for me and a purple one for Sylvia.  Ron wanted me to go back to look at the shoes and see what I thought.  I told him he should buy them, so he made the guy an offer of (he thought) $35.  The guy grabbed his calculator and typed in $25!  So Ron snapped them up. When we got home, Bill and Verda were about to go out shopping, too.  So Ron and I both took naps. For dinner Verda made eggplant parm, and we finished up the salad from the night before. We went to bed early, so we could get up at 6 for our trip to the coast. Our plan is to go to Puerto Lopez and go to the "poor man's Galapagos."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Going to Ibarra

Monday We started out in the morning to go to Ibarra to go to the big supermarket, the Supermaxi.  But we decided to stop at the travel agency on Bolivar street to see about tickets to Manta, so we can get to Puerto Lopez, where we can go to the "poor mans Galapagos" Isla de la Plata, or go whale watching.   Well, the travel agency was not like the ones we are used to.  We were there for at least an hour and a half.  Some other Americans that are staying in our same complex were there trying to buy tickets for his sister and her boyfriend and having a hard time with the language barrier.  But finally we got our tickets and the girls were very nice.  I was surprised to see them pull out a piece of carbon paper to copy the numbers on our credit card!  I haven't seen carbon paper since the late '60's. We took the bus to Ibarra, about 45 minutes away, for $.45 each.  Ibarra is a pretty big city, with more to offer.  But since we got there kind of late we didn't do anything but eat lunch and shop at the market.  We bought diapers, detergent, and bar soap for the pre-school, as well as some things we couldn't find in Cotacachi. Verda had bought a chicken at the Supermaxi, so she roasted the chicken, we cooked the little fingerling potatoes Ron and I had found at the produce market, I made a salad, and we had fresh peas.  What a good dinner!  Except that the potatoes tasted like dirt.  I didn't care for them.  We will try another variety. No plans for Tuesday.  Wednesday we are off to the beach!

Sunday Market

Sunday Today we went to the fruit and veggie market here in Cotacachi.  It was fabulous.  We were offered 3 pineapples for $1.00.  We bought 4 bananas for $.25. We ended up with tomatoes, potatoes, a pineapple, strawberries, bananas, and an avocado, and we might have spent $5.00.   They also had a lot of food being cooked that was for sale, but we didn't try any of that.  We are preparing most of our food at home, or eating at Serendipity, a great restaurant run by Nancy, an ex-pat from Naples, Florida. I actually had a nap today.  Had to pause the Wimbledon final til I woke up. Then we went to dinner at Nancy's and I had a delicious chicken pot pie, and Ron and I shared a piece of apple pie. My dinner cost $3.50, and the pie was $2.00. Tomorrow we are going to Ibarra.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Problem

I am using my new iPad on this trip and I can write posts just fine, but I cannot upload an image. The place that says "choose image" is grayed out. Does anyone have a clue what I am doing wrong?

Friday's Post

Today we rode the bus for the first time.  We walked to the square and it was easy to find the bus to Otavalo.  When we got off the bus there was a taxi dispatcher and we simply told him that we wanted to go to the Panguche Falls.  Quick as a wink a taxi was there.  We hopped in and in about 5 minutes we arrived at the falls area.  It was a lovely spot, the smell of eucalyptus in the air, and the soothing sound of the stream running just off the path.  The falls were quite nice-not as impressive as Glacier, but can there be a lousy waterfall?



We made the mistake of agreeing to let the driver wait for us. We thought it was really nice of him to offer; we would pay for it later.  After we saw the falls the driver took us into Panguche, a community known for its weavers.  He stopped in front of this little shop and we stepped into a shop filled with beautiful wall hangings, sweaters, scarves, tablecloths, wallets, socks, tons of stuff.  Downstairs were 5 looms and other equipment.  I will post a video on Facebook of the young man weaving.  I bought a tablecloth and two wallets.

 After the weavers shop we had the driver take us to Otavalo for lunch.  He stopped at the square, The Plaza of Ponchos, in front of a restaurant.  Bill and Ron asked him how much we owed him, and he said $30!  We were not prepared for that.  Next time we will know better.  Got to learn, I guess. We had a good lunch - shrimp for Ron, and rice with vegetables for me, Bill and Verda shared a "tipica" plate with steak, pork, chicken, potatoes, and some sort of corn.  Afterwards we went shopping in the market.  Ron bought an alpaca sweater, I bought an alpaca poncho, Verda bought a zip front sweater and a beautiful alpaca blanket.  Oh, and I also bought a pair of slippers for these cold tile floors. Finally, we headed for the bus station and found a bus going back to Otavalo.  By the time we got home we were all ready for a drink and some tv time.

Celebration in Cotacachi

Today we relaxed a bit in the morning.  Verda's tummy was acting up, so Ron, Bill and I went out to find a bakery.  As we unlocked the gate, we saw a large group of high school age kids with instruments waiting to march in the parade.  This week is the 150th anniversary of the founding of Cotacachi, so there was a big parade and music in the square til later at night.

After breakfast we walked to the church square and caught a bus to Otavalo. When we got off there was a building that turned out to be a taxi dispatcher.  We arranged for a taxi to take us to Lago Cuycotchi for $5.00.  After our experience the day before with having to pay the driver $30.00 because he waited for us at the falls and took us to Panguche, we had a guy up at the lake who had a cab take us back to Otavalo for a bus home. The buses are so easy to use and cost $.50 for the two of us! We bought the makings for spaghetti and ate in.  Watched some tv and went to bed.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

First day in Cotacachi

Yesterday we went with  Micky, Yolanda, Pamela, and Darla to the Morales Chupa pre-school.  The kids were, as someone put it, Ecuadorable, and I was in charge of taking pictures.  I took shots of the parts of the school that have been repaired and shots of the classroom and of the deplorable state of some of the equipment they have to use.  Wish we could donate a crib - the one they have is awful.  We are going to go shopping and buy diapers, a garbage can, soap, and scissors.  Maybe we can find something for them to play with.


 Later, there was a gathering of ex-pats at the Remax office for 4th of July.  We met a lot of people, all of whom were very friendly and had nothing but good things to say about Ecuador.  Then, Verda and I were invited to go to the shaman and have a cleansing.  It was a very interesting experience.  He used some very sweet-smelling plants, various liquids, sacred stones, and candles.  We didn't learn anything about ourselves; he wasn't a healer per se, but he just worked balancing our energy.  He did different things to each of us, and it seemed he spent the least time with me, but that may just be my impression.  Anyway, it was a "cultural experience." Pam is definitely a woo-woo people.  She told me that they had definitely proven that the first stone laid on the pyramid was the topmost stone, leading one to assume that it was built upside-down and then turned over??? Today we are going to Panguche to see the waterfall.  Panguche is also famous for its weavings.  I am going to buy a tablecloth for home.  And maybe a poncho if they have them there.

Quito

My first impression of Ecuador, and of Quito, was the demeanor of the two taxi drivers that we hired to take us to our hotel, "Casa Arbolitta." They were extremely helpful and kind, and worked together to determine where this place was. We ended up having the taxi driver call the hotel and find out for sure if we had the right place, especially since there was nothing to indicate that it was a hotel - no sign, no lights, no impressive building. He was assured that we were in the right place, and we were greeted by Patricio, a young man who spoke good English, and his mother, Jenny, who, with her husband, runs the place. It was a lovely home, with bright colors and interesting art pieces displayed. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our rooms. Ours was bright red, extremely clean, and had a nice bathroom. Jenny made breakfast for us and we were introduced to Lauren, a student at the University of Nebraska, who is in Quito for the summer. She is an architecture student and had come to Quito to work on a project there, was offered a chance to stay for the summer and she said she loved Ecuador so much that she decided to stay. She was renting a room from Jenny and said that Jenny was like her Mom away from home. She was delightful and we felt confident after talking to her that we would enjoy our stay in the country. Jenny hooked us up with a guy who had a van and would drive us to Cotacachi. We hired him for the day for $120 and he gave us a guided tour of Quito. We saw the cathedral, the main square, and the statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of the hill. I got some shots of the entire city. Then he took us to the "middle of the world" where the latitude is 00.00.00. There were so many amazing demonstrations of the coriolis effect. Will post photos sometime in the future. I have found that I can easily write notes on my iPad. My problem is that I don't have time! Tomorrow, a report about Cotacachi.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Ecuador is beautiful!

Sunday morning we heard the alarm on my phone jangle at 4:45 am. We hurried to get dressed, gather our luggage and grab a cup of coffee. Mike quickly spread cream cheese on two bagels for me and we threw the other snacks into a plastic bag, tossed it in my carry-on and hopped in the car for the 30 minute ride to the airport. The countdown was over; we were on our way to Sud America! The first leg was routine. Just Phoenix to Houston. Once we landed in Houston, we had a few hours to kill, so we had lunch at Ruby's Diner where Ron was able to get a real chocolate malt! I had some delicious fried zucchini which probably wiped out all my work on the treadmill for the past month. The next leg was Houston to Panama City, Panama. You think the airports in the U.S. are inefficient, wait til you see Panama City. We waited for about 20 minutes for a gate to open up so the plane could park. Then it took another 20 minutes before anyone could get off the plane - never found out why. Fortiunately, the gate for our Copa Airlines flight to Quito was not too far away. Ron bought some scotch at the duty free shop so that he would have some on the final leg of the flight. We were tired by this time, but the flight to Quito was only two hours and by the time they served our sandwich and drinks, it was almost time to land. Ron complained from the time the wheels touched down til we arrived at our hotel, so I won't go into how long it took us to get through immigration, get our luggage, get through customs, etc. But finally, there was Bill's face and arms waving at us. Whew! He had already arranged for taxis to take us to Casa Arbolitta where we would spend the night. Details of our stay at Jenny's place and our first day of our trip coming tomorrow. Had two glasses of wine at dinner and ready to fall asleep.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thank you, Steve!

The doorbell rang this morning, Kathy answered it and came back into the house with a box that had been delivered by Fed Ex. I wasn't expecting a package until tomorrow afternoon, so I asked her who it was for. She simply handed it to me, and I got so excited. My iPad had arrived a day early, all the way from Chengdu, China! I have been investing in Apple stock for many years now, and the increase in the stock's value has bought me two Canon cameras (including my new digital SLR), a computer, an iPod, and now an iPad to take to Ecuador. I will be able to keep up my blog, keep a journal, and download all the photos I take every day. We leave Sunday morning, so watch for updates.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beijing

Last stop, Beijing, known in my childhood as Peking.  The name for the city has changed, but not the name for the famous dish, Peking Duck.  I loved Beijing.  It is like other international cities - lots of fabulous shopping, great museums, crazy traffic, a sense that life is moving forward.  Friendly Planet had a lot planned for us to see, and since Sam, our guide, lives in Beijing, he was also our local guide.

One of our first stops was the Forbidden City, with its 9,999 rooms.  When we returned home, I watched "The Last Emperor," the story of Pu Li, the last emperor to live in the Forbidden City.  The story made the Forbidden City come alive for me, since when we saw it, the only people inhabiting the city were tourists - mostly Chinese.  If I were to go back, I would like to have time to sign up for a tour with a guide that would show me more than we were able to explore in our short visit.  I am looking for a video tour of the Forbidden City, so if anyone comes across one, let me know.

Also that day we saw Tian'an Men Square, the site of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum.  His embalmed body is on display mornings and afternoons, but we did not have time to go through the line waiting to pay their respects.  What I did not expect was the size of the square.  We were supposed to walk from one end of the square to the focal point, the Gate of Heavenly Peace where the portrait of Mao hangs and have our group portrait taken.  Some of the wussy members of our group refused to walk that distance because of the cold and the wind whipping across the expanse of the square.  Sam quickly adjusted to the desires of the group and arranged for our picture to be made in front of the Hall of the People, only halfway across the square.  This was the only time that there was any indication that we were in a communist country.  Sam had instructed us not to have conversations about the 1989 Massacre.  He said there were undercover police in the square and we could find ourselves in trouble if they overheard us talking about something that, officially, never happened.  The government's position is that the tragedy of the student demonstrations was simply a media event.  That the press "made it all up."

In his book, Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler describes his visit to Tian'An Men Square.

          "After a while, I began to notice that some people in the crowd didn't look like tourists.  They were men, usually in their thirties and forties, and many of them had crew cuts.  They were not well dressed: worn trousers, cheap windbreakers.  They did not look educated.  They did not look like they were enjoying themselves - they weren't smiling, or taking pictures, or buying souvenirs.  They loitered and lingered; they lurked and looked.  They dawdled.  Sometimes, a man would stand directly behind a group of talking tourists, as if trying to overhear their conversation.  Periodically, one of the crew-cut men sauntered over to another crew-cut man, said something, and then sauntered away.  Several held rolled up newspapers.  I saw one man raise his newspaper, hold it next to his face, and speak to it.  Curious, I walked past and took a furtive look.  Inside the rolled paper, I caught a glimpse of black plastic - walkie-talkie." (p. 59)

The following day we went to Badaling, 44 miles northwest of Beijing, to view the Great Wall.  Compare the photo from my climb on the wall to other pictures you've seen in magazines and brochures.  They generally show two or four people walking some distance in front of the camera.  That is not what I saw.


While in Beijing we saw a Jade Factory and a Pearl Factory, both of which were interesting because, I very rarely, if ever, have seen any product being made in the U.S.  What about you?  Have you visited factories in your hometown or on any of your travels to see how different products are made?  That is something we need to institute in our country and let people be proud of things that are "made in America."

Other sites included in our tour of Beijing were the Ming Tombs and the Temple of Heaven.  There is so much history in China, a four-year degree would barely enable you to learn about all that we saw.  A favorite excursion was the Hutong tour via rickshaws.  Though Beijing is a modern city, a visit to the alleyways shows the charm of old Beijing.   The hutongs, created by the walls of courtyard houses, were the residences of officials and the well-to-do, although now most are state-owned. Our rickshaws wove in and out of narrow streets, revealing shops of every description, restaurants, bars, and houses.  Suddenly we came upon an open space beside a lake where people were walking their children and their dogs, cruising in paddle boats, and enjoying an ice cream on this leisurely afternoon.  I could have stayed the whole day there just soaking up the feeling of actually being in the middle of a place I've dreamed about since I was a child and watched my mother read Pearl S. Buck's books about China.  She looked so enraptured, I wanted to feel that way.

The grounds around the Temple of Heaven are a gathering place for people to exercise, to play mahjong or other games, and to just hang out with their friends.  I shot a video of people line dancing and one of several men passing a ball around with a racquet, never letting the ball leave their racquet until they gracefully tossed it to their partner.  There were, again, so many people gathered in one place we felt a bit uneasy.  Americans are simply not accustomed to so many bodies sharing the same space.  But it made me so happy to see all these people smiling, having a good time, spending time with friends outside in the sunshine.  I wish we did more of that sort of thing in our country.  Many of our gatherings, like mornings in the park, are focused on the children, not on the adults.

Friendly Planet saved the best for last; we visited a village just outside Beijing and had dinner with a host family.  We learned much about the history of the village from our delightful tour guide, who lives there, and had a tai chi lesson from a master.  He was so beautiful to watch.  It must take years and years to master those movements.  This village is known for its hand-carved furniture and we were treated to a tour of a working shop.  Then we went to the home of our hosts for the best meal we had on the entire trip.  The wife taught us how to make dumplings, but, of course, she made 99% of them since we were so slow!  There were many other dishes and the husband did most of the cooking. They were so friendly and gracious - they truly made us feel like honored guests.

I hope I have another opportunity to visit China.  We saw only a small percentage of the country - there is a lot more to see and learn.

There are photographs from our trip on my flickr site: santanartist

Questions are welcomed.


 
 


Friday, June 15, 2012

Countdown to Ecuador

We leave for Ecuador two weeks from Father's Day.  I am getting excited to see the place that we may end up living for at least 6 months out of the year.  Ecuador is the cheapest place in the world to retire, so we have heard.  Property is very affordable, rents are less than $500/month, and living expenses are laughably cheap. 

We are planning to spend a month in Cotacachi, in a condo we rented for $650 for the entire month and that includes utilities and internet access.  Our friends Bill and Verda are joining us, so our share is just $325.  Can you beat that anywhere?

We have been trying to figure out how we are going to live with a limited income once Charlie and Katie are in school.  We have researched places to retire and it appears you can live quite well on $800/month in Ecuador.  So we would have enough spare cash to still travel a bit.  We'll check it out and see.  I'm worried about missing the NBA playoffs, the Masters, the French Open, and the NCAA March Madness - but they have Direct TV, so maybe we can still have access to all those events that I'm addicted to.

Health care is reported to be excellent and a visit to the doctor costs $10.00.  A beer is $1.00, and you can have an excellent meal in a nice restaurant for about $8.00.  Sounds too good to be true.

Watch for a report when we return.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pinterest

I have joined Pinterest (though I have trouble pronouncing it!) and created several boards.  Now I need to know how to get people to find my etsy shop, my Flickr photographs, or my Smugmug photographs and pin items like this.  Any ideas?


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Terra Cotta Warriors

Our next stop on the tour was Xi'an where in 1974, a farmer digging a well discovered some pottery shards.  Excavation began and altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits.  Many have been restored, but there is still a lot of work to do to uncover the entire army built by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  The figures were buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and their purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.


Nancy and I particularly enjoyed walking along the city wall, the largest intact city wall in the world.  Below the wall, the moat around the old city is still pleasant to walk along.  Had it not been late in the afternoon, we would have rented bikes and biked around the old city, all 9 miles of the wall.  Maybe next time.


An optional tour was a dumpling dinner and Tang Dynasty show, one of the most popular entertainments in Xi'an.  It was featured on Samantha Brown's tour of China on the Travel Channel.  The dumplings were delicious and we must have had over a dozen varieties - the ones shaped like chickens contained chicken, the ones that looked like little fish, were made with fish, of course.  One variety was very, very spicy hot, and Nancy and one other member of our group ate all the ones given to our table - they were too hot for everyone else!  The show was phenomenal.  I loved the costumes and the scenery.  The performers were excellent.  Here are two photos:

Xi'an was our favorite city.  They say it's small because it only has 8 million people.  

Next stop, Beijing.



Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Discovering China

My daughter, Nancy,  and her husband, Mike, gave me a trip to China for my 70th birthday.  Wow!  What an amazing thing to do.  Of course, someone had to go with me, so Nancy volunteered.  In spite of her concern about not being able to sleep because of my snoring, she signed us up for a 10-day trip to Shanghai, Xi'an, and Beijing with Friendly Planet.  We left the night of March 26th and returned on April 5th.  I have traveled quite a bit, but this was by far the most relaxed and educational trip ever.  Being with this tour and its excellent staff, we felt safe and secure, and the itinerary covered so much that we never would have seen otherwise.

One of the first impressions we had was that a lot of the things we had been told about China were just not true.  We expected the cities to be so smoggy that possibly we would be issued masks by the tour guides.  As you can see by the photos, that is simply not true. It was cold and windy some days, but no matter where we went, there was little if no smog.

Another concern had been that everywhere we went there would be a lot of second-hand smoke.  We expected the Chinese to be smoking everywhere - in elevators, in restaurants, in parks.  Not true.  Of course, there are a lot of Chinese who do smoke, but not in public.  The rickshaw drivers smoked while waiting for customers, and our bus driver smoked while he waited for us to return to the bus.  But, in general, we did not have any problem with cigarette smoke.

We arrived in Beijing's modern international airport with welcoming shops and restaurants.  The signs were all in Chinese and English, so we had no problem finding our gate, the restrooms, or a beverage.  There were no pictures of Chairman Mao, although all the souvenir shops sold copies of his "Little Red Book."  We did not stay in Beijing at this time, but caught a plane to Shanghai to begin our tour.

Shanghai was a city of hi-rises.  Coming in over the city, it looked like Alex had been playing with his legos, just building tower after tower and he would never run out of blocks.  I cannot imagine that there is enough concrete in the world to build all those buildings.  Of course, the skyline is what you always see, with that huge onion-topped tower - the Oriental Pearl Tower - dominating everything.  Nancy and I opted out of the tour of the city on the last day we were there, preferring to explore on our own.  Unfortunately, it poured rain the whole day, we couldn't get a taxi to take us back to the hotel, and we got soaked and exhausted.  But, the rain prevented the people on the tour from seeing anything from the Pearl Tower, so we didn't miss anything!  

During the Shanghai portion of the tour we went to Suzhou, the silk capital of China.  Originally the beginning of the silk road, Suzhou is a lovely little town of about 4 million.  (4 million is a small city in China!)  We toured the silk factory, had a tour of the city's canal in a quaint little boat, and were treated to a dumpling dinner and a performance by talented dancers and musicians.  We went to the Embroidery Institute and saw an art form I had never seen before.  Of course we all know what embroidery is, but until you see the skill demonstrated by the Masters at the Institute, you have no idea.  First of all, the stitches are done in fine, fine silk threads and not one of us could imagine how small the needle must be and how in the dickens one threads such a needle.  Here is a photo of one of the pieces that looks like a photograph itself.

Next post will be Xi'an, the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors.     



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Great Sales Day!

I have listed about 40 items from a consignor on eBay and they are selling like the proverbial hotcakes. They are all brand names that are very popular which probably explains it. Also sold one of my hand-dyed scarves today.

Someone found my shop on etsy and contacted me about participating in a craft fair on March 3. I have never done one, so I think I will try it. I only have my scarves and my greeting cards, but we'll see what happens. Have to sell some just to pay for the booth.

More later -

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Owl Photo

New Scarves Listed on Etsy

I have made some new scarves that I have listed on my etsy shop. One of them is my favorite of all the ones I have made so far. It's a cut devore satin scarf in a lovely peach color. I am afraid the photographs just don't do it justice. The others are a peach satin scarf, and two raspberry ones. See what you think.

Tonight I was lucky enough to get a really great shot of the great horned owl that lives across the street in a huge eucalyptus tree. We have been going out every night to see if we can spot him and tonight he was on a branch with only the sky behind him and I got a shot. I will post it tomorrow.

That's all for today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

SELLING ON EBAY

No one really understands how much work goes into having an eBay business until they have done it. If you want to sell stuff, you really have to put some thought and effort into it. I have just been blessed with a ton of clothes, shoes, and handbags to sell on eBay, so I am spending several hours a day in the prep work. I find that it's sort of like painting a room - almost all the real work is in the preparation. Cleaning, touching up, taping, taking outlets off the wall - that sort of thing.

So, when selling clothing on eBay, the first step is to inspect every item for tears, stains, buttons missing, any flaw at all. You can advertise something and point out that "tiny little spot" but most of the time it won't sell. After everything has been sorted into "Sell" and "Goodwill" piles, then all items must be washed. And, of course, some are "hand wash, cold," some are "machine wash, warm," some are "tumble dry," and some are "line dry." I have to admit, anything that requires hand washing ends up being the last to be listed.

Once all the items are ready to photograph, I have to have a nice day with a lot of light. I find that around 10 a.m. is a good time to start. It's not too chilly outside, and the light is nice and bright, but not that brutal noonday sun. I generally take 4 shots of each item - front, close-up, back, and the label. If it's a two-piece item, like a pajama set, then there are two or three more shots.


Then the photographs have to be downloaded to my Mac. Once they are in iPhoto, I can crop and adjust the exposure, maybe saturate the color a little just to make them pop. Each item gets its own folder, and they are ready to be uploaded to Auctiva. Auctiva is a listing service that provides templates and data services for people who sell a lot on eBay. If you are only listing 20 or so items per month, it's not worth it, but if you're doing a big, big batch, it's a good tool.

Just as in painting that room, the final step is the easiest and where it all comes together. A snappy description of the item helps get a shopper's attention. You want to sound friendly, but professional. Buyers must trust you before they will buy something they cannot see or touch. EBay's feedback system helps establish this trust, too.

So if you want to see what I've been working so hard on this week, go to eBay and search for "santanartist." Or search for "Orange Carole Little." Either way, you should find my items.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Starting Over

The last time I posted on this blog was in 2010, but I am starting over and hope that this time I will be able to keep it going.

I am busy with my etsy shop, making silk scarves and learning about dye. Still taking care of Charlie and Katie 4 days a week, and still doing photography.

Celebrated my 70th birthday with all the family and received a new bike which I love!

Here's a photo of the cake Nancy made for my birthday.  It's amazing.  A suitcase with labels for all the places we have been, plus my passport!  Isn't that just too much?  Nancy and I are going to China  on March 26th for 10 days. Will definitely blog about that!

Nemaste,
Dottie