Ok, I had to get my rhyming in, there isn’t much rhyming in Spanish. So, the country has been on vacation this past week due to Carnaval…you may think “oh, like Mardi Gras” and that’s close, true. Monday and Tuesday this town shuts down! It wasn’t like this on Christmas Day. Very limited bus service, some field service is cancelled and stores and mercados are closed for the most part too. However, an added bonus for Carnaval celebrants is the indulgence in throwing water and other liquids (let your imagination run wild here) and spraying large cans of foam on family, friends and unsuspecting passersby. Chet had water thrown on him. I had water thrown on me, twice, both times from a passing car but no biggie. Thankfully both times it was only water and not….(again, let your imagine run WILD…ok. stop.) And yes, I’m serious.
Anyway because the students have been out of school for a couple weeks after service one day some of the young sisters and I visited the Amaru Zoo. It’s more like a preserve spread over acres and acres of a mountainside overlooking Cuenca. Lots of hiking up and down to see the 5 different ecosystems of Ecuador represented in 43 animal habitats. Some of these animals could leave if they wanted, but they stay…it’s a really neat place as zoos go. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to see everything, you cannot bring food in with you because of the monkeys especially but there is a snack bar halfway through. And if it’s a workout you’re after well you get 2 for 1! What a deal for only $4.00! Less if you are a student.
You ever have a moment, day or days when you felt like you just wanted to be led by the hand and have someone else make the decisions for you? To be given all the answers before you even ask the questions? Then come to Piedra de Agua.
Between cedula business, our ministry, getting the apartment finished, getting to know our way around, i.e navigating on the bus system, and being sick with stomach illnesses (me, not Chet and that’s another blog entirely) we haven’t really been “tourists”. So we decided to take a couple of days and take a much needed vacation in our hometown and surroundings. Ecuador is approximately the size of Colorado but it packs a significant punch when it comes to diversity of things to see, do and experience with all your senses.
Piedra de Agua is a natural thermal spa about a 20 minute ride outside of Cuenca. We decided to take a taxi but you can take a #12 or #200 bus. The taxi was $5. I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves but let me just tell you that this was beyond relaxing! We chose to do the Wellness Package for two. The package includes a 30 minute relaxation massage, a steam bath, a soak in a volcanic red mud pool that is full of minerals like magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, calcium and potassium. Next a shower in a volcanic shower, then soak in the blue mud pool (manganese, gold, and quartz minerals) and again back to the shower. Next there is a soak in the contrasting underground thermal pools, yeah 10 minutes in the hot pool and a heart stopping, gasping plunge into the cold pool for 1 minute. Ahhhhh, ooooooh, yikes!! You do that 2x, my friend. For your reward you now get a treat of a fruit plate, some dipping chocolate and your choice of champagne, wine, or fresh juice. No, the pampering isn’t over yet! On to the steam boxes for 10-15 minutes, shower and back outside for the thermal pools, hot and cold, your pleasure. You can swim, float, soak, etc. for as long as you like. Altogether we spent 4 hours there and could have spent all day. We did not have to think about what to do next The. Whole. Time. they lead you where you should go next as smooth jazz plays in the background. There is also a beautiful restaurant on site for lunch or dinner. Piedra de Agua is open from 6a.m to about 10p.m. I heard it’s absolutely beautiful at night, and there’s 2×1 some afternoons/evenings and on Mondays. Check it out when (not if) you come down here, you won’t be disappointed! Oh, and btw the package was $55 per person ($110 for 2 and you have to have 2 for that price). Yes, I’m serious it includes the delicious snack. If you are flying solo no worries, it’s $30 for all the pools and as much mud as you can play in. Massages are $20 extra.
Pictures coming right up. The last picture is of my first talk in Spanish last Wednesday. The friends said they understood it…they are so loving.
12:06 a.m January 1, the sound of explosions rouse us from a fitful sleep. The sky is on fire. Chet is happy to take my word for it and turns over. Ever curious, I wander outside. From our 3rd floor patio I look out on the most incredible scene of my 53 years, (ha! now you know how old I am! No biggie, right?). From every window in the apartment there is the sound and sight of hundreds (no exaggeration) of exploding Roman Candles, Shells, Fountains and Repeaters over the city. The streets are lit up with firecrackers, sparklers and the burning of dummies that represent prominent people in the belief that they bring good luck for the New Year. These dummies are prominently displayed for sale along the streets as the last day of the old year progresses. Young boys in drag stand in the streets and pressure passing cars to stop and give them money. Our normally quiet street is a carnival, people dancing with masks and dressed in all manner of outlandish costumes. Halloween is no big deal here, but this pageantry exceeds that holiday in the States. We had our meeting tonight, they used to cancel it because of the hullabaloo but not anymore. I’m glad, although we had light attendance. A lot of the friends stayed home to escape the foolishness I’m guessing. Next year we will think about taking a vacation from the city.
I wanted to address a lot of the emails I’ve gotten asking for advice about life here in Ecuador and making the transition. We have been surprised and delighted and truly honored that so many friends are reading the meanderings of my wandering mind and are seeking to “step over into Macedonia”. Whether that is here or elsewhere. Questions regarding flushing toilet paper, bringing a pet, where certain congregations are, appropriate footwear, cost of living, etc. etc. are all valid and important questions. Unfortunately we are not able to answer them all. Our lives are busier than ever before and I am sure you understand our inability to get back to individual emails. With that being said, we will respond to 1 kind of email, if you need an attorney for a cedula, we have an excellent reference for a brother and sister here in Cuenca.
Otherwise, you may want to check out these resources:
2. Gringo Tree
3. Gringos Abroad (written by Witnesses for everyone)
4. jw.org (for meeting locations and times including sign language)
5. Cuenca Highlife
all of the above are blogs/websites that offer a wealth of up-to-date information, plus you can post questions with the exception of jw.org of course!
6. Living and Retiring in Cuenca, Ecuador, 101 Questions Answered-this is a book you can download for about $2.99 from Amazon.com it was very helpful to us at the beginning.
7. Go to spy out the land. Our coming here for 3 weeks before we decided to move was invaluable. We heard about rents through word of mouth and actually did not wind up looking for an apartment, it came to us. That won’t be everyone’s experience but talking to friends and taking the time to temporarily experience the life you will have goes a long way in “counting the cost” of your move on all levels.
Hope this helps and now I’m going to take a much needed siesta! Hasta Luego!
Everyday is a lesson in humility and patience…have we mastered it? Of course not! Maybe after a millennium…or two, smile. The lessons come in when our false expectations run straight into reality. “Oh, yeah, well everybody (including friends who’ve been here for 20 years) is saying it will take 3 to 5 years but we’ll be different, surely it won’t take us that long!” Haha! FALSE! it’s gonna take at least that long. And you know what? It’s ok. We try to sit back and enjoy the ride. Calm down, embrace the culture. We remind ourselves we’re in a marathon, not a hundred yard dash.
Chet says he goes a little crazy sometimes over the cash based system here, all our bills were taken care of in the States with online banking. We paid about 20 bills online in the States, we are down to 4 now. The landlord shows up for the cash rent the first of every month, that was very weird at first! Purchasing appliances, furniture, etc. you’ll get a deeper discount with cash and most stores don’t even accept cards. We are learning to adjust. We try to relish the language and laugh at our many bumbling mistakes like telling someone I made a dish with “roasted eyes” when I meant to say roasted garlic! Or that my spouse and I are birds instead of telling them we are a couple! And if you ask for manzanilla on your toast, please expect them to look at you strangely and bring chamomile tea, not butter. Butter is mantequilla. All of this has made for some great laughs with the friends and openings with locals about who we are and why we are here.
Our lives have speeded up quite a bit, as we are very busy now in service, endeavoring to take advantage of all avenues of the ministry including public witnessing with the cart at the big Mercado near our kingdom hall and evening service here, which is a treat being able to work casa a casa (house to house) at 8 and 9pm at night. Not all the friends in all 60 congregations here work their territory at night, but we live in a relatively safe area for evening witnessing so that’s a blessing. There is 12 hours of daylight here year round, about 5:45 a.m to 5:45 p.m so early morning witnessing in the park is nice too. There are lots of people out in the park, jogging and working out on the equipment that the city has built into a lot of the parks. Although it is still a challenge to get our time because we have very little return visits, I do currently have 3 studies and we are praying for more!
Fridays finds us working on the Assembly Hall in Racar, about a half hour from home. Huge storm this past week shortly after our arrival, Chet and Luis, the assembly hall caretaker, look anxiously outside as hail begins to fall. Just an hour prior it was a beautiful sunny day!
Our congregation’s newest and youngest unbaptized publisher is Darla. She is 3, will be 4 in January. Darla, her mom and grandmother are regulars in evening witnessing which meets on Tuesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m, despite her single mom and grandmother working all day until 6pm. One day Darla asked her mom why she couldn’t fill out a field service report? Her mom explained that she couldn’t because she wasn’t a publisher. So Darla said, “Well, then I want to become a publisher!” Her mom explained that she had to talk to the elders about that. So at the next meeting…and the next one Darla approached the coordinator and asked when she could talk to him about being a publisher. No joke! This past Sunday, Darla had her meeting and was approved to become an unbaptized publisher. Darla told the brothers that she wants to serve Jehovah forever.
The picture below is of our service group. Christian, the young man in the wheelchair is 21 and frequently auxiliary pioneers. New service groups are in the wings and this weekend we will start having 2 combined groups at our home for the field ministry.
Tuesday afternoons is the opportunity to strengthen my Spanish with these two lovely companions…Micaela and Daniela, 11 & 12 years old. This picture was taken as we did public witnessing on a path near the river Tomebamba. They are such a source of encouragement and fun! Micaela, the shorter of the two, is a stickler for correct pronunciation and meaning, and of course I need it desperately!
In other news the weather is so beautiful here its really warmed up, not as chilly as when we arrived and it’s sunny most days with low humidity, sometimes showers in the afternoon and then cool again at night. Next month the friends here are looking forward to going to the district convention, the International one will be held in Quito but mostly English are invited to that here in Ecuador. The Spanish convention will be held in Azogues. Lots of excitement among the friends as they have waited for months for this!
Chet thought it would be great to mention that we both visited the dentist this month for thorough cleanings for under $60. Total! yep. Also, chiropractor visits for $15. Nice, hmmm? Lastly, here’s a recipe for a hot spiced beverage typical of Ecuador, Canelazo (pronounced Cahn-eh-lasoh). http://www.food.com/recipe/canelazo-spiced-cinnamon-rum-drink-455405
It can be served with or without alcohol so everyone can enjoy it. Canela is cinnamon in Spanish, thus the name. Buen Provecho!
Sunday afternoon we arrived back in Cuenca after a 2 day stopover in Guayaquil for Chet’s elders school in English. One thing Chet shared with me from the school is that although there is a need in the English congregations, the CO said there is a greater need in the Spanish congregations, especially for brothers.
Our trip to the States was very productive and it was good to see friends and family. Chet’s daughter had 2 Bible students get baptized at the circuit assembly so she was on a real spiritual high. Also saw my baby girl and her new husband, and yes they are still on Cloud 9!!! My Dad had cataract surgery while we were there, I was glad we were in town, the surgery went well and he says he can now see “from here to Yonder Way.” For those of you who don’t know where Yonder Way is let’s just say it’s pretty far!
On a sad note I got to see my spiritual mom Rosa, while visiting my Dad in Alabama. She told me she stopped taking the medicine for her cancer because the docs told her it was no longer halting the spread of the disease. She also was opting out of the chemo, radiation experience. We sat, talked and hugged and I saw her at the meeting that Wednesday night. This past Monday, after our arrival here, my sister called to tell me she fell asleep in death the night before, just the way she wished to go, in her sleep. She is such an inspiration to me, pioneering and being as active as she could until the end of her life in this system. I will miss her sense of humor, her easygoing nature, generosity and hospitality. Won’t it be sooooo good to see our friends and family again in the New World, all of them still alive and well in Jehovah’s memory?
So here are some pictures from the Iguana Park in downtown Guayaquil, we stayed across the street in the Unipark Hotel and I would recommend it, a great place to stay if you are in town. Actually, the name of the park is Parque Bolivar but everyone calls it Iguana Park. You’ll see why…I went over there in the morning to study and informal witness while Chet was at the elder’s school. A great time and had a couple of nice experiences one in the park, and one at a nearby museum that had exhibits using the name Jehovah! I was able to talk to a couple of the guides and placed two tracts as well as direct them to the website.
This Saturday off to our Spanish circuit assembly, glad we went to English first! We are looking forward to it, will let you know how it goes…Hasta Luego!
First, pictures from the English circuit assembly last weekend in Quito (peak attendance 385) and a shout out to Wendy, I met the Gunns!
The tip of the volcano is a bit hazy in this picture.
A friend from Australia gives his experience at the Assembly.
This couple from Cincinnati, married 45 years, he proposed when they were 5 years old but her mom made her wait! LOL!
Made new friends who serve in Otovalo, north of Quito.
Quito Assembly Hall
Raj and Leoni plan on moving to Quito, currently live in Canada.
The day after the Assembly we visited Mitad Del Mundo, the Middle of the World, although they say it’s directly on the equator the actual location is up the street and around the corner…nice shops and cute little dancers from Loja province though! On the way we met some friends at the bus station engaged in public witnessing.
Dr. Seuss describes the past week I’ve had literally and figuratively. I am not even sure I wanted to write this post lest I sound like a Negative Nelly. The changes here are a bit (and a lot) overwhelming and stressful at times for both of us. Everything is different, the weather, the food, the language, the culture, my hair (yeah, my hair has been shedding like crazy and yes I am a bit vain about that…all my sistahs know what I’m talkin’ bout!) and just the systems to get things done. And although I embrace change and I love it here overall, at times all the variables get to me and at times they get to Chet. Watch out when life here gets to both of us at the same time but thankfully that’s not often.
This week was hard as we found out our visa requests have been denied and we have to get most of our paperwork ( ALL OF IT!!!) redone. I won’t bore you with details but the long and short of it is we are coming back to the States for about 3 weeks so I can get fingerprinted by the FBI, (No I am not a thug) and all our documents can be apostilled. Again. If you don’t know what that is…Count your blessings! We are actually looking forward to being in the States. A chance to see family, some friends perhaps and accomplish our paperwork in a timely fashion. And go to the consignment shops in Philly! Yay! Retail Therapy! We will fly into Washington, DC. the middle of November if not sooner.
Today big crocodile tears rolled down my face when the brother visiting from the branch told a joke during his talk and Chet and I just looked at each other…I knew it was something about a TV. It was like the straw that…you know. I wondered again, what are we doing here? Our fluency in the ministry, in the meetings and with most of the friends is very limited. However, after the meeting I met Brother Costa and his wife Betty. They have served at the branch in Guayaquil for 20 years. He is from Boston and she is from South Dakota. He said to me, “It is so good you are here! There is work to be done in English, but there is more work to be done in Spanish!” I said “Really??? I don’t feel like I’m doing anything!” He said “You’re already doing it! Smiling and hugging the friends goes beyond language…besides you are getting a taste of missionary life!” He went on to tell me that as missionaries 20 years or more ago he thought his transition to the language, culture, etc. would only be 6 months because they had classes before they came…not so, it was more like 3 or 4 years! He said they spoke “Tarzan/Jane Spanish” for a while! He encouraged both Chet and I in separate conversations not to give in or give up! The friends need to see our example, there is much work to be done here and it is vital to step up our personal study program, to make sure we feed ourselves spiritually. Hmm, I had just started my increased study program this week. And the new TV channel and JW language App are also blessings, huh?
Another encouragement is the wonderful circuit assembly in Quito we enjoyed last weekend. So as I think about transitioning for 3 or 4 years it seems daunting. I believe what will help me is to keep thinking about one of the talks the brother gave during the recent Gilead Graduation, “The Fruitage of the Spirit is Patience”. Yes, patience, taking one day at a time and being patient with Jehovah and myself!
Two Friday afternoons ago Jennifer asked me to accompany her to Terminal Terrestre (the large main bus station) in Cuenca for public witnessing as Eric was not going to arrive until 6pm. Yay! I had wanted to have a share in that work but the C.O here likes to approve all the applications. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the bus station, not really that far from us but we also witnessed on the way.
The bus station is quite large, with buses going to various locales throughout Ecuador. There are numerous tiendas (little shops) throughout selling lots of goodies and snacks to make your journey a pleasant one. There are even tiendas selling DVD’s and stuffed animals. Whatever you want it seems you can get it here. We relieved a special pioneer couple who have been serving full-time for 40 years. She was a classically trained opera singer and dancer. Very neat couple. The picture is of Jennifer and another special pioneer couple (Mario and Jennifer Vitores) from Guayaquil who stopped by to say hello to us. They have been serving for the past couple of years in the Amazon jungle. The need in their congregation is really great with only a couple of brothers in the congregation. So if you like the jungle you may want to consider….anyway, we had a couple of very nice experiences including one with a young woman who asked why we did this work and called ourselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. She stood with us for about 15 minutes or so while Jennifer shared a couple of nice scriptures with her and reasoned with her on them. I am looking forward to the C.O coming in November so I can submit my application.
This past weekend we celebrated our 9th anniversary by going to the Valley of Longevity or more commonly known as Vilcabamba. Vilcabamba is south of Cuenca and very close to the border of Peru. Some people have compared it to the north shore of Hawaii, and although it did remind me of that, minus the ocean of course, it was extraordinarily peaceful, lush and breathtaking in it’s own right. There are numerous gringos in Vilcabamba, (some have been here for 40+ years after following a spiritual guru called Johnny Lovewisdom), including hip young backpackers making their way through South America and lots of retirees seeking their eternal Fountain of Youth. I swear some of them were at Woodstock back in the day! We stayed at Hosteria Izhcayluma (Oh-steer-ee-uh Ish-kay-loom-uh). A unique inn run by a German couple with accomodations for backpackers and those who don’t! Restaurant on site that overlooks an amazing mountain vista and the green valley below. We stayed in one of the cabins, complete with hammock on the veranda again overlooking mountainous terrain. $49 a night and very cozy.
The first day we arrived I was sick from the 4.5 hour van ride over very curvy roads. The views off the side of the road as our driver passed on double lines were to die for, literally! I tried to catch up on some of my reading but made the fatal mistake of sitting in the very back of the van. Who me? yeah, I don’t ever get car sick. No bueno! Ugh, I was so sick all I could do was lay my poor head down for the rest of the afternoon and evening when we arrived. I awakened refreshed at about 2 a.m, timidly made my way thru the inky darkness to the veranda and was greeted by a vast array of stars as far as I could see. I couldn’t help but grin, and then laugh into the night. Have you ever done that? Have you ever seen something, even the tiniest thing of Jehovah’s creation that is so beautiful it makes you gasp and fills you with such joy!?
Flora outside our door
Town of Vilcabamba
Hiking on the grounds of Izhcaylumha
View of the town from the Juice Factory in Vilcabamba
A view from the yoga/dance studio
The town doesn’t wake up till after noon…
A yoga studio sat high on the mountaintop above our cabana…thought it would be a great dance studio!
Dance/yoga studio, hiking there yields impressive views
On the way to Vilcabamba
On the way to Vilcabamba
Park in Vilcabamba, forget the name of it.
Hand crafted beer and natural soda (honey, lemon, ginger) sooooo good!
A view on our hike up, up up the mountain
10 minutes from Vilcabamba we found THE BEST BBQ!! Even a veg option…mashed potatoes and gravy & coleslaw and artisanal beer…
Flora of Vilcabamba
Flora of Vilcabamba
Chet at the park in Vilcabamba, Happy Anniversary!
Bananas outside the door…breakfast anyone?
hmmm, maybe the road is better than the trail…
Great place to stay!
Chet hiking, yep it’s him!
Views of Vilcabamba
The veranda of our cabana had this very restful hammock