Trip to Ibarra

Today we took a bus ride to Ibarra (pop. appx. 100,000) another city about 50 minutes away…give or take a dozen stops to let people on.  Cost of bus ride only 45 cents per person.  A cute little girl played hide-n-seek with us…and when she & her mother got off the bus, the mother wrapped the child on her back in a shawl to carry her.  It’s not unusual to see children at the age of five carrying a two year old, and to see them playing unsupervised.

Walking down the street, we saw several businesses where cabinets, countertops and doors were being made.  A solid wooden door here is $40…one that would cost hundreds in the U.S.  We also saw several carts, where food is being hawked for lunch-  rice & beans, fruit, roasted chicken and fried potatoes.  The carts are pushed to different businesses, and the employees come out and buy lunch for just a buck or two.

There is an American style grocery store called SuperMaxi that is the “Winn Dixie” or “Publix” back home…you can get things like peanut butter, salad dressing, processed or packaged foods, and the meats are wrapped in packages or frozen.  They also have a larger selection of convenient foods and goods that aren’t available in the villages or smaller towns.

Kywi (pronounced “kiwi”) is the Home Depot of Ecuador.  Here you can find hardware, tools, light fixtures, (a fan for me!), gardening equipment, cleaning supplies, even a gas grill.

Several stores form a strip mall where you can buy clothing, shoes, electronics, and there is even a Hallmark store.  The post office has the p.o. boxes outside on a wall, and all the banks have a security guard by the ATM.  We saw every car dealership you could find in America – (Chevrolet, Kia, Mazda, Toyota, etc) and even priced some vehicles (which was fun because the salesman couldn’t speak English- he kept say $1800 instead of $18,000!).

When you go into a store here, the security guard walks you over to some “safes” where you store the packages you brought into the store…you can’t just walk around with a Hallmark bag in the Kwyi store, for example.  You get a receipt, and collect your shopping bags once you check out.

The food court upstairs is extremely clean, and you can get tacos, sandwiches, burgers, ice cream, pastries, and fried bananas.  So far, haven’t seen any fried cuy (guinea pig) but I’ve been told it’s available!  This city is noisy with lots of traffic – constant taxis and buses.  Public transportation is much more accessible and financially feasible between the towns.

Our bus ride back was an experience that we were glad to have lived through- steep winding roads up and down the mountain…what appeared to be goat trails with buses passing each other- blowing horns around the curves.  Next time we’ll make sure to take the video camera!

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Saturday Market in Otavalo

Every Saturday is “market day” in Otavalo which is about 9 miles north of Cotacachi. The people here really are entrepreneurs as you’ll see from the photos…we nicknamed one aisle the “food court”, where you can buy anything from raw meat, vegetables, fruits, ice cream, fresh coconut, spices, corn, popcorn, and dried beans or you can stop and eat where a vendor will cook the food for you.

Vendors are pretty aggressive if they think they have your attention, and will continue to bargain until you walk away.  Everywhere you look is gorgeous silver jewelry, alpaca scarves and blankets, panama hats, leather hats, tablecloths, native blouses, handmade musical instruments, wooden toys, colorful bead jewelry, and awesome wood carvings and native artwork.  It would really be fun to decorate some houses here!

The park is in the center of town, and some of the buildings have murals painted on them by local artists.  When you see kids playing and teenagers holding hands, you realize that things are not so different in some ways from back home!  There are the natives who dress in loose cotton pants or skirts, lots of gold beads, blue jackets, hats and the women cover their heads, and then you’ll see others dressed in American labels.  Some of the younger women wear the latest styles you’d see back home- especially the shoes with 4-5 inch heels.  Some of the younger generation are also dying their hair blond or red!

I took a pic of an older woman who brings her eggs into town to sell…she’s barefoot and I caught her wrapping up her “flat cartons” in a shawl to carry back.  I am fascinated by the tenacity and endurance of the locals…barefoot on cobblestone roads, and they walk everywhere…miles and miles just to take care of daily business.  It’s hard to tell the age of a person because life is so hard for most of them.  They have my total respect.  The children are beautiful and their smiles will light up your day.

It’s such a small world…we ran into Bentley and a new couple from North Carolina- Dave & Miriam who have been here for 3 months and are already planning to stay!  We all had lunch at a Chinese cafe where Kelly & I had shrimp with vegetables and rice.  Actually, the food was very good.

In the villages, the native people buy everything from their weekly food supply to underwear and shoes…check out my pics of “Victoria’s Secret” and “Abercrombie & Fitch”!

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Home Details We Like

Walked into the village today, and Kelly signed up at a small local gym- Vital Gym…the owner, Johnny Navarres, doesn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate between the translated dictionary and writing everything down.  Kelly worked out to ZZtop in Spanish…(Best Dressed Man)!  It was pretty funny to see this guy take off his shirt and show us his pecs!

Got our house cleaned today by Justina for $3 per hour…she even did our laundry!  Visited with Aya who owns the organic garden next door.  Spent a whopping $4.80 on veggies and 2 loaves of baked bread with quinoa.

Here are some details we really like about the houses around here.

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Colonia el Batan

There are only 8 houses in our neighborhood, all adobe style.  Every yard is landscaped and Kelly says the best part is hearing the weed-eater, and he’s not the one holding it!

Some of the houses are vacant and are for sale or rent; a few of the owners are back and forth from America or England.  We love this style of house- the adobe bricks are made on site and we’ve been observing the construction process.  It’s very slow – some of these houses took 2 years or more to build.

Lunch party at Bentleys with Carolina, Segundo, Henry & Kestrel.  Awesome meal of homemade lasagna, avocado & pepper salad, chocolate cake with almonds & raisins, and red wine.  I came back and took a 2 hour nap!  Kel missed lunch- he was pulling a Forrest Gump….he took off running up the mountain and came back 4 hours later (he missed lunch but we kept him some leftovers).  Kelly really loves the tranquility and peace of the mountains even more so than the valley we’re in.

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Exploring with New Friends

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Lunch today at a little cafe in the village with Bentley and Carolina.  We’re learning to order bottled water with every meal, and our grilled cheese and tuna sandwiches could have been made in any cafe in America!  Santiago and his family are really friendly and he encourages gringos to come by.  He tries to keep a few books around that you can read while you’re in the cafe, but most of them are in Spanish.  I think I’ll learn to read this language a lot faster than I can speak it!

Later, we met another couple named Henry & Kestrel Sutton from Hawaii.  They’ve already bought 2 condos here.  With six of us going to Otavalo, Kelly & I rode in the back of the truck!  Lots of native vendors in the park, and the products that are offered are gorgeous hand-made items.  My big purchase of the day was a hand-woven bracelet and the woman selling it to me has her family photo displayed at her stall – everybody in the family from the children to the grandparents take part in creating the items that are sold.

We saw stuffed teddy bears and wall hangings made from alpaca wool that are so soft you just want to roll around in it!  The chess sets have carved llamas that take the place of the knight figures.  Wooden instruments are made from indigenous wood.

Got a great idea for a “coffee table book” of photos….wish I had a really great camera!  The photo ops here are unbelievable.

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The Village of Cotacachi

We have about a 25 minute walk into the little village of Cotacachi and it’s cobblestone road all the way!  The altitude really kicks your butt!  Visited Calle 10 de Agosta…(Leather Street)…it’s probably every woman’s dream of a shopping trip for purses or shoes!  We had lunch at a little place called Serendipity’s which is owned by Nancy Harrigan ( an ex-pat from the States).   You can get a hamburger, BLT, grilled cheese, soup of the day, even Curry chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies…a very diverse menu.    This seems to be a fav hangout for the expats here.

Saw llamas on the way to town, and took a pic of their owner, who was obviously getting a kick out of our attempt at Spanish.  Tried to get enough photos to show the essence of the town- it seems that everyone is an entrepreneur!  There are little “shops” everywhere you look- selling socks, coca-cola, scotch, phones, fruit, baskets, videos and eggs!

We got a little concerned about the power lines…check out the slideshow!  So far, we’re having fun…

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Relaxing on Sunday

Our first Sunday here in Casa Rosada…and some adjustments!  Night noises- we could hear the carnival celebration until 4 am, and some sort of demon cricket was driving me crazy, but Kelly slept like a log!   Second, the appliances have instructions in Spanish (good thing we packed the dictionary)!  One word at a time…we changed some things around…the house is sparsely furnished, but all we need.   There is no air-conditioning and you burn small pieces of wood in the fireplaces or use a propane tank heater (on wheels) if you get too cold at night.  There is a “gas shed” that holds 3 tanks of propane (at a cost of $3 per tank- one for the hot water, and one for the dryer and one for the stove).  These tanks last about 3 weeks with normal use.  The electric bill is around$17.00 per month.

We ate leftovers from yesterday, along with some fruit for our meals.  I popped popcorn and was very proud of myself- it’s a gas stove and I’ve never used one…heck, I never used an electric one much! You may have noticed in the photos that there are no light fixtures here- just a few paper lanterns to cover some bulbs.  Light fixtures are expensive, and are not provided by the builder.  We love this style of house – Kelly is really interested in learning more about this type of construction.   We are about 25 minutes from town if we walk, which we’ll wait and do tomorrow.  Today, we’re a little tired and just trying to acclimate to the altitude.  Today is cool and cloudy and we went exploring nearby.

The roads around us are cobblestone or dirt.  The dwellings range from very poor to the affluent, and most of them are guarded or sheltered with gates…this is a leftover from the Spanish Inquisition era.

The country here is pastoral…we walked to some newly constructed condos that we had seen on House Hunters International and the views from there are spectacular.   You can see our house from there too.  Bentley, our gracious neighbor is friends with Carolina, the realtor we saw on HHI showing these same condos!  Can’t wait to meet her.

We came back and opened windows…I think I found the perfect climate for any woman in menopause!  Around 65-70 degrees during the day and 40’s at night.  It’s very peaceful here and we are looking forward to exploring the village of Cotacachi tomorrow.  The shops open at 10am, close from 12 to 3, then open again until 6 pm.  You have to plan your shopping trip! Ecuadorians seem to be more motivated by spending time with family and friends than anything else.

So glad we got Skype to call family and friends, but the internet connection here is very, very slow – especially if it’s cloudy or raining.  Please be patient with us!

We saw two beggars on the street yesterday…it breaks my heart, just like it does anywhere else- then Bentley told me that the woman doing the begging owned half the block!  She comes out on the weekends and gets money from the gringos!

Found out that it costs $1.00 to mail a letter, and we have to go to Ibarra or Otavalo.  It also costs $1.00 to receive a letter…you do not get mail at your address here like in the States…although it is very “small town” and everyone knows where you live! No UPS or FedX…there is a DHL in Otavalo, but shipping something is expensive.  We were advised to buy a nylon duffle bag in Otavalo, and stuff it with the items we want to take home (as a carry-on).

We met our next door neighbor today, Christina who is a lawyer from Washington. Tomorrow we’ll explore the village and I’m pretty pumped about Calle de Agosto (leather street)!

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