Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My name iz Bear and I always smile

Dis is my story about moving to Ecuador
I been bugging Mom since we got to dis place to tell dog stories and dis is da day. Yippee!

Me and Amber hadda ride in da cages on da flying bird on da way. I never seen a bird dat big and it wuz dark and scary an seemed to last days and days in my life. When it stopped moving, Mom and Aunt Robbin wuz der and we knew we wuz going to be ok. We stayed in a strange place Mom called a Hostal for two nites and hadda ride anudder big bird but it wuz a lot smaller dan de udder one and da dark place wuz not so scary. Still big tho. A car wid a flat back where Mom's tings went took us on a long ride to a place called Vilcabamba. Mom hadda help spell dat.

Der wuz SO many new smells and sounds. And der wuz a lot of udder dogs dat didn't have rings on der necks or strings to pull dem around. Dey tink dey were free but sum of dem wuz skeered of der own shado. Der wuz da biggest dogs I ever seen dat had peeple on der backs. I'm glad Mom never did dat to me. I wuld be squisht.

Me and Amber learned to eat new food. Sumtimes we eat sumthing called chickens and I tink they are bigger than me. My mom gives me da feet and dat's my favorite part.

Amber trying to figur out dose chicken feet.

Fer a long time, seems like yeers in my life, we wuz bery happy wid a yard to play in. Mom brot my little fuzzy green tennis balls to play and I got bery good at catching dem. After we thot dis wuz home, Mom went away an left us wid a nice lady called Mia. Just when we thot Mia wuz our nu Mom cuz it seemed like yeers in my life, our old Mom came back. Hope she not mad at me fer calling her old. Haha!

I love my little green balls.

We hadda move our tings agin and hadda clim some kinda big steps bigger than me many times a day. Down fer de potty, up fer sleepin and eatin, down fer da playin. A nice lady wuz in da store in front who always had lots of hugs and kisses fer me. She liked me da best cuz I liked her. Amber iz just a purty face. Shhh. She bites me when she gets mad.

It wuz not long 'for Mom sez we hadda move agin. Dis time it wuz far far away. We wuz moving to a pretty house in sumpin called Paute ( Mom spelled agin). A nice lady called Jani wants us to gard her house. Dat is sumpin I am good at. Gardin. Mom knows nobody gets close widout me and Amber letting her know.

I am a STAH in Paute! Speshuly when Amber is not arond.. Little peeple like to hug me but sumtimes too tite. Dey like to trow da ball an I like to play wid dem. Mom taut me tricks wid hand signals so now she teech me strange words wid same hand signals. I jus want her to be happy so when she says "vamos", I go. When she says "pare", I stop. When she says "sentaste", I sit. It is ezy when she uses the same hand signal. I tink Aunt Robbin (I tink she mite be a sister) taut her dat.

One day, Mom took me wid her on a BIG car wid a lot of peeple on it to a place called Cuenca. After sum scary walkin in da city cuz I'm very little, we got in a car wid a strange man who took us to a place where we met peeple from dat little box Mom calls a computer. I tink da name of da place wuz Cafe Moca wid nice Courtney, Steve and Susan bringin Mom a sandwitch and coffee. Dey took my picshur for a contest dey haz called dog of da munth. I shure am glad Amber stayed home. If Mom wins, she gits free coffee. Then she will talk even more dan she duz now. Noooooo.

Peeple in da park stop and talk to me and say "kay leendo". I tink dat means I'm cute. When dat nice lady Jani comes back, we will move agin but not too far. We haz frens named Jorge, Celeste, Angel, Julio, Carli an a lot more. Mom talks to everyone. Me and Amber just smell. I tink dis is home.

I looked shameful when Mom come back from her trip.

Look at da size of dem dogs?
My new friend is Esteben.
Mom and her frens in Cuenca.
Haz you ever seen such steps?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Moving to Paute...............makes me smile

I knew eventually it would happen. I've seen a lot of Ecuador to stay in one place and I wanted to experience more of the country than a playground for retro hippie gringos. Vilcabamba is a beautiful place and I met a lot of very nice people but there so much more to see and do so I took my friend, Jani, up on her offer to house sit while she was in the US for three months.

The morning of March 13th started much the same as any move across country. It took an hour to load up and another 20 minutes to kennel Bear and Amber, say our goodbyes and leave.

As we were entering Loja, 45 minutes away, the driver told me he had to stop at a mechanic for repairs. I guess he must have found out just that morning he had a brake issue. "Media hora mas o menus (1/2 hour more or less) he said. Uh-huh. Sure. I've learned a thing or two in my year plus of living in Ecuador. "Mas o menus" is a key term used in this country that ALWAYS means mas...more in English. I have no idea why menus is added. I thought "One half hour? Who is he kidding? It will be two hours at least." We rolled into the mechanics at 9 a.m. and it was fully 11:30 a.m. by the time we left.

Two and a half hours at least gave me the time to clean Bear's kennel. Why did I ever think it was a good idea to feed dogs before an over hill, over dale ride?

The drive to beautiful Cuenca was uneventful. We had a roadblock to wait for a road slide repair, a herd of cows to avoid, my constant quizzing of Javier (the driver) for Spanish words and lots of windy, twisty roads around the Andes. Hasn't everyone moved like that before?

At one point, I made each of us small sandwiches of my chicken salad I had made up of chicken, walnuts, pineapple and eggs. He refused another but stopped 30 minutes later for lunch. Oops!! I thought chicken and pineapple made perfectly good sense. It certainly made more for me!

As we were coming through Cuenca my phone was ringing. I was out of minutes and needed to apply the phone card to make a call. I desperately searched the black abyss of my purse. It was Jani calling presumably to get an eta of our arrival but I was too late. Applying a tarjeta (phone card) requires codes, tiny print and a bajillion numbers and it is difficult bouncing around in a moving truck, bad roads and a small dog kennel in your lap to even see the numbers. On the fifth try, I was in business.

After telling Jani we would be there in an hour, we found the construction work the expats in Cuenca had talked about for months. It would be two hours before arriving in Paute. I might have known.

Jani told us to stay on the main road until we saw yellow painted guard rails and a school. Javier stopped at the first yellow guard rails. "No esquela" I said. Then he stopped at a school. "No amarillo", I said. I was actually thinking of the George Strait song Amarillo by Morning by that time.

Finally we found a school AND a yellow guard rail WITH my friend all in the same place. Bear, Amber and I were home for at least three months.

Smiling. Did I mention the biggest perk? Bathtub......HUGE smile!!! Rare commodity in these parts. Ahhhhhhhhh....

At the mechanics.  Have to admire the creative way of dealing with old tires.
30 minute job in Ecuador??  Right.
Bathtub.   Magnificient.
Rock slide
Last look at Vilcabamba.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Memories of Vilcabamba...............make me smile

I have been living in Vilcabamba for 13 months.   If someone asked me to describe it in one word, I would have to choose the word eclectic because there really isn't just one word.

I have been up and down the Sierras in my time in Ecuador as well as along the coast between Salinas and Bahia and Vilcabamba is still one of the most stunningly beautiful spots in the country.

Even my dogs seemed to be in awe.

Vilcabamba has a past reputation for long lived citizens.   I am loathe to disillusion but as Vilcabamba's international fame grew scientists began to investigate in earnest the claims of the locals and some became skeptical.   In 1971, Dr. Alexander Leaf, a Harvard medical School researcher met a man who reported to be 122 years of age.   When he returned three years later, the same man claimed to be 134 years.   The older the citizens became, the bigger the exaggeration.  After their study had been made, it was found the oldest person in the village was 96 and the average age of those claiming to be over 100 was actually only 86 years of age.   Can you imagine an American woman exaggerating her age?  Oh, yes.   They already do in the opposite direction.

I have no clue how old he is. You'll find him most days in
the town center on his daily walks.  A lot of times, he 
can be found posing for pictures with tourists.

Every time I come into El Centro, there are new people.   Vilcabamba is a magnet for expats and the expats come from all over the world.   The main thing they have in common is their idea about how to dress in this town.   They come here looking like any tourist.

This is Alexandria dressing normally.

After they have been here a while, the expats start transitioning.   There is a stage in between the arrival stage and full on Vilcabamba style.

This is a transitional phase of dress.
After they have been here a while, there is full on Vilcabamba dress.

The transition is complete.

So you may wonder how an average Ecuadorian dresses.  I actually played a little trick.   Alexandria in the blue t-shirt is actually an Ecuadorian.   In reality, unless they are indigenous, Ecuadorians in Vilcabamba dress a little like westerners with jeans and t-shirts.   Minus the fanny packs.

Among reputations, Vilcabamba also is known as a haven for paranoia and conspiracy theories.   I have heard everything from chemtrails to tenth planets with wayward moons that will strike earth and spin its axis into polar shifts.  I also have heard that "they" are conspiring to keep "them" from giving us something/anything to deprive/hurt/kill.   "They" are groups to whom power may be given (including aliens) and "them" is any group being championed by whomever is promoting the theory.  Those items that are being deprived may be free clean energy, miracle cures or whatever other utopian benefits the theorists believe in but don't actually know much about.  "Look it up on the internet.  It's all there!" is a common refrain.   Fortunately, not everyone takes this too seriously.

Tin foil hat thinking.

I am leaving Vilcabamba in a few days to house sit for a good friend.  It has been a great run in a very unique part of the world.  Will I return?   I'm not sure at this point.   It certainly will be easier to learn spanish with a bit more immersion as there are westerners living in Vilcabamba for more than three years who still don't have much of a grasp of the spanish language.   However, the international flavor of the town, along with the stark beauty of the mountainsides,  is irresistible.   I can think of at least 20 nationalities that I have met in Vilcabamba since coming here last year.  Where else can I get really good Swedish food in Ecuador than Decapo's?  Or be invited to a burning man party?   Or hear the latest entertaining conspiracy theory?