Thursday, December 31, 2009

C'Mon Baby

Here I sit in the middle of one more freakin' amazing, mostly-acoustic jam.

Luh-Lee and Julia are dancing like a storm blowing through the rhythm.
Everyone is so closely in tune that it simply cannot be that it's a coincidence, but rather divine intervention.

We sing even after we think we're done. We sing any acapella song that we all know the words to... or not. It doesn't matter because the most excellent and appropriate worse and phrases fall out of the  sky. It's a beautiful thing.

We've gone through the stretches with each other for a few passes now and we feel comfortable letting at all rip without judgment nor ego. Something never before witnessed. Yes, really. Naked, hairy warts, beautiful tones and all...

And Jan just sang "I Can't Make You Love Me" by Bonnie Raitt to a room full of late-night, bang-any-drum, "do we know the words?" crowd.

And now she's belting out "Georgia" to Jack's accompaniment. Dec's sitting/lying next to me on the gianormous window bench as I type this passage. And I feel... right.

peace, love and the most harmonious night in YEARS,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Horse of a Different Color (By: Mike)

We'd been in Ecuador for about 2 1/2 weeks and had to go to Loja to meet with our lawyer, Marco (he gives hugs like most people around here).  We had to fill out a census form that is required by the Federal government.  Loja is about a 45 minute taxi ride which is always interesting.  It is all mountain roads, with twists & turns, steep inclines &declines, patches of gravel where last year's heavy rains washed away parts of the road (or was it a heavy rain from the year before?) and plenty of switchbacks.

The thing you have to understand is that the taxi drivers get paid by how many trips they make back and forth.  This means that they drive pretty fast.  Tire squealing is a normal occurrence.  As is passing any vehicle that is going 1 kilometer slower than you are.  Passing lanes and straight a-ways are not required.  Any piece of road will do, corner, narrow, people walking on the edge of the road - no problem.  But that's for another blog supported by some video.

When we arrived our lawyer was busy finishing up with some other clients.  Actually, two other clients.  And, as it turned out, we knew both of them.  We chatted while we waited, but Declan was in a rather foul mood as he wasn't really interested in the trip to Loja in the first place.  But, he had to come as he had to fill out the census form as well.  He eventually had enough adult talk and decided to go outside and people watch.

He wasn't out there for five minutes when he saw Susan, another friend of ours from Vilcabamba, who we'd known for about 2 weeks.  He waived her over and she crossed the street along with two of her friends to say hello.  We saw them talking and went out to say hello.  She introduced us to her two friends.  One of them was Tina.  Tina pretty much ignored us and started talking with Declan.  I think she could sense he was in a bad mood.

"Do you like horses", she asked.

"Yes", Declan replied.

"Good.  Walter (Susan's husband) is coming up tomorrow and you should come with him.  I have a really good horse who has never thrown anyone and I'll teach you how to ride him."

Nani said "I think we have lunch planned with some friends tomorrow."

Tina said "That's fine, I'm not inviting you guys anyway!"

We all got a good chuckle out of Tina's directness.  I like people like that.

The next morning Walter came by at 9 AM sharp and picked up Declan for the 1 hour drive to Tina's farm.  We packed him a water bottle, a lunch, and some extra clothes.  Walter said they'd be back around 3 PM unless the roads are a mess in which case it might be as late as 5 PM.  And, we shouldn't be alarmed if it's even later than that.  And off they drove.

We stared at each other and laughed.  Declan is going with Walter, a guy we met 2 weeks before, to drive an hour to a farm we've never been to, to spend the day with a lady we've known for about 5 minutes!  Neither of us felt an once of reservation about him going.  We both felt it was a great opportunity for him.

Declan & Walter returned about 4 PM.  Declan had one of those experiences that changes you on the inside forever.  He had a smile on his face that wouldn't go away.  He got to ride a horse, make some home made pizza, and do some farm work.  But more importantly, he got to build some self confidence.

This is Declan a few days ago at his friend Joshua's birthday party (not on Tina's farm)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hygiene Tips From a Ten Year Old (by: Mike)

Since we arrived here a little over three weeks ago I have tried to revisit my beliefs of what I think I want and need.  What are my needs - really?  How often do I need to bathe?  How often do I really need to change my clothes, or my underwear for that matter?  How often do I need to shave?  How often do I need to cut my finger nails & toe nails.

Here is what I discovered.  Bathe - 4 days unless you're really sweating like a pig.  Clothes - 4 days unless you're rolling in the mud with the pigs.  Underwear - 3 days unless you're having certain issues having to do with bacon stripes.  Shave - still haven't yet, though I did have to trim my pie hole cause food was getting stuck in it way too much & prevented me from eating like a pig.  Finger nails - 2 weeks, else you can scratch someone & make them squeal like a pig.

And toe nails.  Well, Declan told me yesterday that I should cut my toe nails as they were starting to curl like a pigs tail (okay, that a stretch on the whole pig thing).  But, I figure when a 10 year old is giving you hygiene tips, well, you probably ought to listen.  So I did.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Long & Winding Road Part I (by: Mike)

I've been meaning to write about the actual trip down here for a while now.  I want those who might be interested in a visit to know that it's not exactly the easiest place to get to.  Not that it is hard (though having all the luggage that we did made it an extra challenge).  It's mostly just long.  So, here's Part I.

We left our house on October 31 around 5 PM to head to Ecuador.  Sort of.  Our flight from Boston, MA to Houston, TX leaves tomorrow at 10:15 AM and none of us are interested in getting up at 4 AM in the morning.  We borrowed our friend Bruce's truck because we needed something big enough to hold everything that we're bringing with us, plus the four of us.  Nani's brother Tim was nice enough to drive us down and drop us off at the Courtyard Marriott that we're staying at tonight.

The weather forecast showed the possibility of rain so before we loaded everything in to the truck we spread a tarp big enough to cover everything into the pick up bed.  Unfortunately, I had a bunch of small tarps that weren't big enough, and one monster tarp.  I think it was 30 X 40.  It was big enough to wrap everything 3 times over.  But, we made due and loaded everything into the back, wrapped the tarp around it, and tied it down with an excessive number of bungy chords.

Everything means three 50 pound bags, 2 boxes weighing about 50 pounds and a 3rd box weighing about 65 pounds.  We also had 3 carry on bags and 3 "personal" bags.  The boxes all met the dimensional requirements as stipulated by Continental Airlines.  We have stretched the luggage allowances to the limit.

We also have a short connector flight once we get to Ecuador with an airline called TAME.  I wanted to make sure that we weren't going to run into any luggage issues with them once we got there so we used a travel agent out of Florida that our friends Jack & Julia recommended.   TAME's website is in Spanish and we wanted to make sure we understood the requirements in order to minimize surprises.

Our travel agent assured us that the size of our boxes met the dimensional requirements but warned us that there is a fee for any luggage over their weight limit which is 44 pounds each.  Every kilogram over 44 pounds cost an extra 80 cents.  Why they mix pounds and kilograms is beyond me.  That means one of our 50 pound bags would be over 6 pounds or roughly 2.7 kilograms (1 kilogram = 2.20462262 lbs.)over the limit.  Multiply that time .80 = $2.18.  If my math is correct and I understand the requirements, then no problem.

After arguing with the GPS and getting directions from someone at the hotel we eventually made it to the hotel.  I think it took us a couple of hours.  But, we were there.  After muscling all of the bags on to a cart, checking in and dropping the bags at the room we decided to grab a bite.  We ate at the hotel restaurant and bought Tim dinner as a small token reward for his generosity.

After dinner Tim headed back to NH and we headed to our hotel room to do some last minute reorganizing.  In spite of months of meticulous planning, mostly done by Nani, we still had to bring a few things with us to the hotel that we hadn't been able to cram into the boxes and bags.  After about an hour Nani had it straightened out.  We left a few nice pairs of jeans and some other miscellaneous items for room keeping.

We woke up the next morning at 7 AM.  We had a lot of luggage so we wanted to get down to the lobby early so we could make sure we could fit everything onto the airport shuttle.  We showered, had some watered down hotel room coffee (the kind you make in the miniature coffee pot), and headed down to the lobby about 7:45 for the 8 AM shuttle.  We loaded all the luggage into the shuttle and waited a few minutes till it was time to depart and head to Logan Airport.

The shuttle ride was about 15 minutes and once we arrived Nani went to look for a luggage cart while the driver, Dec, and I unloaded the luggage.  I paid the driver a tip and thanked him while we waited for Nani.  A few minutes went by and she showed up with a luggage cart that might hold half of our stuff, so she ran off to look for another cart while Dec and I crammed as much luggage onto the first cart as possible.  A few minutes later Nani returned with a Skycap (I think that's what they're called.  Have no idea why, either.  Okay I had to look it up, see inset below).  He had a much bigger cart, so I took all the luggage off the first cart while Nani, Dec, and the Skycap helped to load the other bags and such.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Skycap is a porter employed by an airport and provides the following service to airline passengers:

The word is a portmanteau of the words sky and redcap (a rail station porter).

Of course I had to look up portmanteau:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses of "Portmanteau", see Portmanteau (disambiguation). A portmanteau (pronounced /pɔrtmænˈtoʊ/ ( listen)) or portmanteau word is used broadly to mean a blend of two (or more) words or morphemes and their meanings into one new word,[1][2][3] and narrowly in linguistics fields to mean only a blend of two or more function words.

The Skycap wheeled us over to the line in front of the Continental Airline's counter and we got in the queue.  The wait wasn't too bad and we eventually made it up to the ticket counter.  The lady at the counter checked our ticket information in the computer, checked our passports, and weighed each bag as they were moved to the big conveyor belt behind the counter.  At this moment we realized that we had one too many carry on bags.  In the 3 months of planning, somehow we forgot to count the camera bag.  We hoped no one would notice and carried on.  Once the Skycap helped with the last bag I tipped him and we made our way to security.

Going through security is like some sort of hurried, rushed dance.  Grab a bin and put in on the conveyor.  Take off my shoes and put them in the bin.  Grab a bin and put in on the conveyor.  Take out my laptop and put it in the bin.  Grab a bin and put in on the conveyor.  Take out Nani's laptop and put it in the bin.  Grab a bin and put in on the conveyor.  Take any change out of my pocket and put it in a cup and put the cup in the bin.  Take my cellphone out of my pocket and place it in the bin.  Put all the bags on the conveyor.  The entire time you're trying to force feed everything through the x-ray machine.  Occasionally, it gets indigestion and spits a back or bin back out.  Once all your stuff makes it way into the x-ray machine you have to walk through a door-shaped metal detector just in case you're packing.

On the other side of the x-ray machine you get to do the exact same hurried, rushed dance, but this time backwards.  All in all, security went pretty smooth.  Except that one of Nani's bags had our hard drives in them and the enforcers got a little worried with how it all looked on the x-ray boob tube.  She had to take everything out of the bag, which like all our bags, was stuffed to the point of bursting.  She eventually found the hard drives and showed them to a security lady to "prove" that they weren't some sort of tool of the devil (what a joke).  Once Nani packed her bag back up we made our way to the gate.

Boarding started about 30 minutes before the flight.  Apparently all the security that we had to go through wasn't enough and the TSA thugs arrived with a portable cart to "randomly" recheck certain passengers.  I noticed that the only passenger they checked had brown skin and sort of looked Middle-Eastern.  Hmmmm.  Probably just a coincidence.  We got a little assistance from the Universe on the extra carry on issue.  Because the flight was booked and the airline decided to allow people to check a carry on for free if they wanted to.  They where concerned that the overhead compartments would fill up and there would be a bunch of bags with no where to go.  We took advantage of this offer and checked a bag.  Now we where within the requirements for carry on bags once again.  Looks like the camera will at least make it to Quito.  We bordered on time and settled in for a 4 1/2 hour flight to Houston.

We arrived in Houston on time.  We decided to grab a bite to eat as we had 2 1/2 hours to kill before our flight to Quito departed.  We ate in the food court and headed over to our gate to hang out.  Our flight to Quito bordered & departed on time.  Once again we had some time to kill.  Unfortunately, I inadvertently left the book I was reading on the first plane.  Doh!  I hate it when I do that (yes, it's happened before).  5 1/2 hours is a long time to stare at the seat in front of you so I watched the in-flight movie.  It was Night at the Museum II, or something like that with Ben Stiller in it.  It was okay, and besides, what else was I going to do.  The rest of the time I tried to sleep, which never works out very well for me as I am 6' 3" and plane seats are designed for someone about 5' 6".  My head ends up falling forward, my mouth opens up, and once all the spit drools out it drys out like the Sierra Desert.

Eventually, slowly but surely, we arrived in Quito about 10:30 PM.  We had arrived in Ecuador!

Courtesy Paul S. Rooy's website.

Happy 45th Birthday, Mike

Feliz Cumpleaños, Miguel
Mike's doing some volunteer work this morning - a great way to add life to one's birthday when it's supposed to be all about "me". There's a cultural festival going on nearly all day, and he's helping set up. We don't know how we'll participate this afternoon, but it should be interesting.
I'm going to try to make a cake for him later today, so that should be interesting.

Love to you from deep within my heart, myMike....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dr. No, I presume? No, it's SuperMaxi! Part II

Part Deux has to do with the gentleman I met at TVenta! He said he would be in Vilcabamba on Saturday, but as it turned out, he rang us up today around noon, when I was still in my PJ's.

Declan went down to answer the doorbell, Jenice was there, too. So, he climbs the staircase saying, "there's a doctor downstairs to see you, Mom!" just as I was snapping on some mammary support. Of course he's here today... were in Ecuador! Jenice looked a bit concerned, but I'm not sure if it was because it was obvious he was trying to sell us something or because I was still in my pajama bottoms and barefoot, ready to venture off with this guy. I assured her we had spoken (sort of) before and I was in no way "buying" anything: No tengo dinero!. She seemed comforted and went back upstairs, leaving me alone in the portico with Declan.

After inquiring after Declan's status as my only son here, we went round and round about what turned out to be his wanting me to come somewhere that he knows a translator... I sort of agreed, hesitantly, as I was walking out the front door, until I saw his truck and realized... um, I'm not getting into a vehicle with any kind of stranger, even a sweet older man.

And that's when I called up to our front room upstairs, "Mike, can you come with me and this guy down the road to see a translator?" Because really, how can one politely decline anything when our languages mosh rather than tango?

So, of course, my protector understood his role and came down to escort us. I told Dr. Mg. Se. Angel Isaac Valarezo Palacio that I wanted to walk instead of drive. I hope he didn't take offense. So, we walked down a few blocks, running into Lenin and saying hola to those we met. He was looking for the vegetarian restaurant owner who can speak some English, but he wasn't there. His sister said he was out of the country. Fortunately, there was a Malaysian couple there having lunch (which looked delicious) and overheard our need for a translator. They'd only been here for a year, but really love it and have picked up some Spanish. Her name is (damned we meet too many people) and his name is Kim.

After struggling some more on trying to understand what he was saying, Kim shot us a look like he could help, so we politely dragged him away from his lunch and lovely wife, and he helped us put the pieces together... he was trying to tell us that he understood that we weren't interested in buying anything, but that if we knew anyone (with either $140k, $1.1m or $1.25m ROTFLMAO) and interested in these properties to call Diana (number withheld) and let her know that he hooked us up.

So, there you have it. I Googled his name today and found out he's an (ex-?)professor at one of the Loja colleges and is trying to sell these properties to boost eco-tourism in Ecuador. What a sweet guy. I wish we could see the properties with the intent to purchase and run something like that, but here we are... just being day to day. No grandiose plans. No money. No real worries.

Anyone up for changing the world?

Dr. No, I presume? No, it's SuperMaxi! Part I

Well, here's another very odd occurrence... yesterday, Mike and ventured into Loja, with blues frontman Ken Schoppmeyer, to look at ordering a digital piano for the Dec, as Ken was picking up an amp to practice with.
[as an aside as to the synchronistic scenes all about... at BJ's before we left, I noticed a Yamaha DGX630 with a stand and seat, weighted keys and pedal, in a box that would just fit the limits of weight and size, but I didn't go with my intuition and buy it for later. Although Mike and Dec had been in that store before and looked around (as men do) they didn't see ANY 88-key keyboards. But this time, I noticed the very same box crammed into a corner of the store.  Take that you non-believers.]

Anyway, I wanted to have a gander at the 2 "gringo" stores: SuperMaxi (yeah, sounds like a feminine product) and Todo Hogar (everything for the home). All stores down here are small in comparison to the US, even these, as brightly lit, spaciously well-arranged and clean as they were. So, we hoofed it up the street from the center of the city to the strip mall that had these 2 stores, knowing fully well our only course of action, with bags in tow, would be to grab a taxi to take us to the taxi stand to wait for a taxi to take us back to Vilcabamba. Yes, that's how it works, generally, if you want to pay $1.50 each (Taxi Ruta). The bus is $1, but I haven't braved those waters as yet.

It was 12pm, and I had my last bio-energy session scheduled for 3pm with Jan, Ken's groovy wife (she's a blessing, she is). That might be cutting it close since even if we got in the Taxi Ruta right as we got there (fat chance), it was still a 40-minute death ride (for the faint of heart) to the center of Vilcabamba and another 10 minutes walk to Jan's spa. Upon spying the wares and comparing them to my extensively prioritized list in Todo Hogar, I realized that there was no way I was leaving without the bare necessities: stainless steel cookware and a decent knife.

So Mike made the call to Jan and she graciously offered a later spot at 5:30pm. Even in the back of my mind and out loud to Mike, I said maybe we should call a white truck taxi (Taxi Mixto) from Vilca to see if anyone can come get us here (generally, $15). We decided we wouldn't buy that much and we'd be able to muscle it back to the Taxi Ruta stop in time.


45 minutes later and with not very many goods, Mike finally resurfaced from Todo Hogar with the stuff, sitting on a bench waiting for me to emerge from TVenta! an As Seen on TV store that had a cast iron griddle. I swear everything is smaller here, but there it was for $15 and I had to have it.

So, for the last 20 minutes that Mike was standing in line waiting to check out, I was in that store trying to find out how much the Jack LaLanne Juicer Elite was ($299 as it turns out - twice as much as normal) and buy that damned griddle.

But then...

This beautiful older gentleman, turned and gave me a huge smile, shook my hand and pulled me in for a kiss on the check... not once, but twice. And all the while he was speaking very slowly in Spanish as if his pace would allow me to understand (though much more pleasant that how most Americans address foreigners by raising their voice to get through). His suave metronome sucked me in even though I was looking out the corner of my eye for Mike... I was entranced and just being polite all at the same time, trying to grip a word or two out of the melange.

And then I had it! He had some property for sale. And I was stuck. Ignorant of how to express that even though I was an American, I AM FLAT BROKE. He continued to write down the information on a piece of paper... so sweetly trying to explain everything to me. And all I could do was reply, "si, si". We exchanged contact info and he finally left with his stuff. 20 minutes!

What I thought he said was that he would be in Vilcabamba on Saturday for the cultural festival, and maybe we would see each other. Our parting landing a few more smooches on my cheek. I got my pan, after remembering my manners and asking after the clerk/owner.

It was now 1:30pm and we had to leave or I would be late. But Mike had already made the call and let me know I could breathe a little... And then I saw it. The holy grail of food stores in Ecuador (at least for a gringo). Before me lay the SuperMaxi of Loja.

Imagine, meats wrapped in plastic, a deli counter, Oreo's for God's sake! But my main goal was spices and some cleaning things. Not that it stopped me from dreaming.

But we had no time. As we approached the front doors, Mike plopped our stuff from Todo Hogar (including a box of stainless cookware - whoo hoo!) on the bench in front where some other gringos were waiting and chatting. I looked around and noticed that there was a Taxi Mixto (white truck) in the parking lot and greedily thought maybe we should make that call so I can SHOP!

But then again, I thought maybe just maybe we could find someone using one of those and split the fare back to Vilcabamba. After all, this is done here. And so as I entered the Wal-Mart of Ecuador, I saw Leila busy talking to the manager, and tada! Sparkly thought lead to me asking Mike to talk to Leila about sharing a cab when she came out.

I went back in on a mission to search and grab the main ingredients on my list. And I did pretty good until I saw the Oreo's and deli. Check this nastiness out which I purchased just to show you how funny language can be. Yes, it says "diaria". Google translates to "Daily Online".

I did not hit the deli, but I did buy a small piece of flat iron for dinner as a treat for us. Then as I rounded the corner I saw a cool woman poring over labels as Mike swept past me with Richard whom we met at a party a couple of weeks ago. Richard said they didn't have enough room to fit us in, but that the woman I just saw was having Lenin pick her up at 2:30pm. So after some quick introductions, we were confirmed a ride back home with all our crap!

I thanked the universe and kept on shopping. I found spices and pasta, cleaning items and oils, shredded cheese and local, natural potato chips. I did grab a bag of Oreo's which we still haven't tapped into. I didn't have much time, so I really didn't load up as usual, especially when I really have to read labels and decipher the codes, putting some things back because there is not a less toxic version. Ah well... it's all good in the end.

I waited in line for about 20 minutes, seems the norm here... but there we were with our ride and new company to get to know. We met Lenin's wife, Berta, a very sweet woman who knows where I can buy raw milk if I want. And we got to know Tamara from Switzerland. I'd like to get to know her better, she seems fascinating.

But, I digress... majorly. This was supposed to be about the guy I met in TVenta!