Ambato and Canoa

On Sunday, February 13, our friend Leonardo drove us to Ambato, where we had been asked to join Lexington’s Dr. Henry Vasconez and his group of about 80 doctors and nurses. Their team would be performing plastic surgeries all week, and we would be applying fluoride varnish on kid’s teeth. Also, we had planned to go to the women’s prison. (When we were here with Beau Haddock and The Highland Rim in 1996, one facet of our program and video had been a report on this prison. Unless things have changed, when a woman with small children is imprisoned here, she must bring the children with her, then depend on family and friends to feed them. We had hoped to apply fluoride varnish and provide toothbrushes and beanie babies to these women and little ones).

After much confusion, we were able to find the team at a local hospital, where they were interviewing prospective patients for surgery. This group does a great service, performing surgeries for free on only the worst cases, daylight to dark, for one week. But, upon arrival, I was informed by Henry’s sister that all our dental supplies had gone missing. With no material there was nothing for us to do, so we returned to Quito. About 30 minutes outside of Quito it began raining, and the temperature dropped dramatically. Our spirits began to flag, also.
Several weeks prior to this, we had met an enthusiastic young gringa from Lowell, Mass. at Cafe Este. She had told us she was volunteering as an ESL teacher in a kindergarten in Canoa, only having come into Quito to renew her visa. We had had no plans to go to this beautiful surfer’s paradise town, but she said her kids would really benefit from any dental care we could provide, and we had told her we would try to get to her town at some time during our stay. The colder and damper it became on Sunday evening, the more we thought about the coast. I decided to go to the airport the next day for tickets to Manta, knowing we would then have two bus rides before we could reach Canoa. On the way to breakfast the next morning, we ran into Leonardo and told him our plan. He said with the new multi-lane highway, he could put us in Canoa in 5 hours, about 1/2 the time it would take us to fly, then catch those two buses. Right after breakfast, we were off to the beach!
The drive to Santo Domingo took us through the beautiful sub-tropical cloud forest. After Santo Domingo we headed west to another city, El Carmen, then directly west on a new highway to Pedernales. This entire area is tropical farms with houses several miles apart. Population is sparse and we went through several small villages with perhaps 80-90 people, and with names such as Humidity, Dry Town and Slow Horse. (Sounds like some of our towns in rural Kentucky). I was amazed to find that the mountains here extend all the way to the coast, and the views were breathtaking. Upon reaching the coast, we hung a hard left and were off toward Canoa. This area of coastline had almost no development and was completely rural and most folks were getting around on horseback.
When we arrived in Canoa exactly 4 hours and 50 minutes later (that Leonardo is simply the best!), we checked into Hotel La Vista, where our room faced the ocean, with a balcony and a hammock and two chairs. We would spend every evening there watching the glorious sunsets. (Sunsets are something which we have rarely witnessed in Ecuador, as right on the equator the sun pretty much rises at 6:00 A.M., and sets at 6:00 P.M., end of story).

Canoa is a small fishing village with a great beach and waves which break perfectly for surfing, drawing a lot of gringos here. When we say small, we mean about six blocks square. It would be impossible to get lost here. There are cliffs behind the town which are used by parasailers and hanggliders. Along the beach are many great restaurants and funky bars. Our two favorites were the Costa Azul (for great shrimp, calamari and ceviche), dinner for two with drink $9.50; and La Flor, a gringo restaurant, where the bartenders are both from Michigan and one and perhaps both (we were unsure) are married to the beautiful daughters of the owner-cook. The owner and the daughters are not Norteamericanas, but we were also unsure if they are Ecuadorian. In the event, the place is very eclectic, with cool music, a great vibe, terrific food, and they disinfect all the fresh veggies, so we could actually eat everything on the plate. And, is it good! Yum. Canoa is famous for having more hammocks per capita than any other place in Ecuador, so after a hard “hammock day”, (and after having had our luncheon calamari at Costa Azul), we would escape to the caring arms of La Flor.

One night at La Flor, we met a really nice guy from, of all places, London, KY. They told us he had come down for a visit 7 years ago, and just never went home. Like many Kentuckians, he hated winter there and felt he had found paradise. Is he wrong? I think not. His name is Greg Gilliam, and he is building a beautiful new hotel right on the beach, just at the end of the town’s development. He asked us to bring him an Ale-8-One next time we visit, so that is on our agenda. Also, the bar at La Flor sells whiskeys from the U.S., including Jim Beam. I said “But, I always heard that Jim Beam drinks Makers Mark”. So he showed us the now-empty bottle of M.M., the only evidence of how popular it  truly had been, so we will definitely gift them with a bottle next year. Hey, we want all these folks to jump in and help with the fluoride varnish, and we learned a long time ago, that it is wise to “grease the wheels” in Ecuador; this will be money well spent.

We met with Elizabeth Stark, who owns a hotel next to La Vista and works with the James Dean Byrd Foundation, where she places volunteers to teach English and other subjects. She arranged for us to visit the local health clinic, where we trained the local dentist to place fluoride varnish and treated several kids and adults there. We then went to a government-run day care center and treated all the kids and adults there. (Had our large supply of varnish and brushes not been lost in transit to Ambato, we’d have had much more material to work with). We also handed out beanie babies and neon-colored  bracelets with “Happy Molars” printed on them (we would  occasionally see these throughout the town later) and school supplies.

Leonardo came on Saturday to spend the night, so we could get an early start back on Sunday morning. After dinner, we took a drive to San Vicente and then across the longest bridge in South America, just completed last November, to Bahia de Caragues. The trip to Bahia from San Vicente used to take 1 1/2 hours, as Bahia is located on a peninsula separated by the Chone River. Bahia is one of the cleanest towns in Ecuador and in 1999 declared itself an “Eco-City” because of its efforts to promote recycling, conservation and environmental awareness. This entire area from Canoa to Bahia is not to be missed.

The next morning, after a great breakfast at La Vista, we were off again, to be thrown back into the real world. Our memories will have to sustain us until we once again, hopefully this time next year, lie in that hammock and watch the beautiful, changing colors as the sun sets again over the Pacific.

Rankin and Ruthi

Futbol Fever

Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, Quito

It was Sunday morning, and I awoke with butterflies in my stomach. One big difference in the cultures of South America and our home is that everyone here is passionate about futbol (soccer). They don’t so much like it, they seem to live for it. Leonardo, his 14-year-old son, his nephew and I had scored tickets for a playoff game for the national title between Nacional and Liga de Quito at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa. Even though we arrived two hours before game time, we still had to park about 2 miles away. Upon arrival at the stadium, I came to realize the fans are segregated according to their team of choice. In the end zones are the fanatics, with painted faces, everyone attired in their team colors. They have their own bands and spend the entire game dancing up and down in unison, singing and blowing whistles. It is hard to explain the excitement which accompanies a game like this; think the  South African fans. As soon as we entered the stadium, we felt the electricity in the air. We arrived very early, but the stadium was already about 80% filled. By game time, there wasn’t a seat in the house. Just imagaine—the end zone gangs had everyone worked into a frenzy, and there were 45,000 screaming fans. 

The game actually started on time and right away I saw some of the best passing I had seen since the World Cup. The play was excellent and the defense was vicious. There were a total of 8 yellow cards. With 8 minutes left in the first half La Liga scored and the crowd went crazy. Of course, this got the opposing team started with the trash talk; we won’t get go into great detail about this as this blog is rated for a family audience. 

Halfway through the second half La Liga scored again. Now, the crowd began threatening the referees’ very life, along with the usual descriptions of his manhood (or lack thereof).     
A note: One thing of interest is that the air currents from the mountains seem to interrupt the flight patterns of many, many birds. All during the game, great flocks of birds would swoop down very low over the playing field, then sort of swirl around the stadium and swoop right back out again. 

About ten minutes before the game ended, a swat team marched into the aisles between the two groups of fans. This is the only area of the stadium which is not surrounded by fences. The swat team shows up in full regalia—bullet-proof vests, helmets, shields and night sticks. These guys mean business! Each of the groups of fans had to exit the stadium through separate doors; then there were more cops outside to keep things calm. I have never seen such passion for futbol and felt privileged to have been to this game.  I believe it was Vince Lombardi who said “Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing”. Perhaps had he been born in most any other country on the planet, he might have been like that soccer coach in England who said (something like) “Futbol isn’t a life and death thing; it is much more important than that”. 

Rankin and Ruthi

Performance by Pianist Alex Alex Alarcón Fabre

Tuesday, March 1, pianist Alex Alarcón Fabre performed piano works by Ecuadorian composers of the 20th century. The concert was held at Transylvania’s Carrick Theater and was made possible through the joint efforts of Transylvania University Division of Fine Arts and Kentucky Ecuador Partners.

The program included pieces by Aizaga Yeroví, Guevara Viteri, Luis Humberto Salgado Torres, Corsino Duran Carrión, Diego Uyana, Benigna Dávalos, Gonzalo Benitez-Luis Alberto Valencia, and Armando Hidrovo-Ruben Uquillas.

Originally from Quito, Ecuador, the young and talented pianist Alex Alarcón Fabre has been recognized as a great interpreter and promoter of the piano repertoire by composers from Ecuador.  He is a graduate of the Conservatorio Superior Nacional de Música de Quito  and the Universidad Técnica de Manabí.

Alarcon studied piano with Hugo Gianinni (Chile), Angela Rouchanian (Armenia) and Berta Brito (Ecuador); and chamber music and Ecuatorian repertoire with one of the most important composers of his country Maestro Gerardo Guevara Viteri.

He keeps an intense artistic schedule as a solo recitalist and a chamber music interpreter, and he adds to his credits a significant number of vocal recitals accompanying some of most upcoming singers of Ecuador.  Alarcon has played in the most prestigious concert halls around his country, and has participated in many national and international music festivals.

His collaborations include working with pianists Boris Cepeda and Eduardo Florencia in recording the piano works of composer Juan Pablo Munoz Sanz. He also recorded works by Luis Humberto Salgado with the Symphonic Ensemble Quito 6 as well as piano music by composers from Ecuador up to 1930. And his interest in interpreting these composers has allowed him to collaborate with Ecuadorian musicologists, tracing the importance of the composers’ lives and works.

A Date to Remember
Kentucky Ecuador Partners will sponsor a Dutch Dinner in honor of Alex Alarcon on Tuesday, March 8 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Village Host Pizza, 431 East Vine in Lexington.

Apartamentos Panoramico: Home Base in Quito

Once we decided to winter over in Ecuador to work on our dental initiative and miss winter in Kentucky, we started looking for a place to live. We enlisted the help of our dear friend Joe Molinaro, who had spent several months in Quito teaching ceramics and collecting material for a book he would publish. He contacted our mutual friend Victoria Carrasco, an artist who had taught a year at Morehead State University on a Fulbright Scholarship. 
Vickie found us an apartment very near her own.(Her former apartment, just below us and now occupied by Vickie’s lovely niece Romina, her husband Rodgrigo and their adorable 1-year-old daughter, Javiera, is the same apartment which was hit and destroyed by an airplane, piloted by a teenage trainee, only a couple of years ago; but don’t tell our daughter and son, Erin and Ian; they might worry about us. Just kidding; they’ll find out soon enough. What the heck; we figure lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice. Even so, every time a plane goes over loooow, which is about every 15 minutes, we always say “And don’t hit Vickie’s house”). This is also the place where Joe had lived when he was in the city. It is situated about 20 minutes from Quito central and overlooks the Guapalo Church and the valley in the distance. The thing we love most about our apartment is that when we retun from our travels, we feel like we’re coming home. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Guapalo is located on the same route that Francisco de Orellana followed on his trip to discover the Amazon River. It is a hillside neighborhood with narrow cobblestone streets, lined with houses, coffee shops and cafes. Here you find the Iglesia de Guapalo, built between 1644-1693 on the site of an even older convent. The church has a great collection of colonial art, including crucifixes and a pulpit carved by Juan Bautista Menacho, an indigenous sculptor of the 18th century. The main altar, painted by Miguel de Santiago, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Diego de Robles are original masterpieces.
There is a mountain behind Guapalo which is covered with pine trees. It is a protected area providing a great green backdrop for this magnificent hilltown. Our apartment is called Apartamentos Panoramico and is located on a dead end street, Calle San Ignacio. Our landlord, Ramone, is a great guy who always has a smile on his face and cleans our apartment every day. We have used the apartment as home base as we traveled with our project, never worrying about security, knowing on our return Ramone would be right there, smiling and bringing us up to date on who might have called to invite us to dinner.
In the late afternoon the clouds roll in and the top of the distant mountain disappear and gradually the entire village disappears, Brigadoon-like. When this happens, the village will not be visible again until the next morning, when the sun blasts through the clouds and that lovely view once again comes into sight.
When we leave in the morning to head to town, we climb 82 steps to get to the main drag. This gives us our cardio workout because not only is it straight up, but at an altitude of 10,000 ft. Most days we like to walk to the center of town, rather than take taxis. This way we have really learned our way around town. When we get into the heart of town, we find our favorite laundry and the cabinas, where we can call the U.S. for 6 cents a minute and use the internet for 60 cents per hour. Also in the area is Libri Mundi (bookstore) and for great shopping opportunities John Ortman’s La Bodega, and Ruthi’s favorite store in Quito, Galeria Latina, for Alpaca sweaters from Bolivia. But best of all is our favorite, Cafe Este´, the really cool cafe/bar where the music is great and eclectic, the art on the walls changes every few weeks, and the breakfast, desayuno, comes complete with fresh-squeezed juice, eggs, toast, real butter, preserves made from fresh fruit, an entire bowl of fresh fruit, and cafe con leche and costs a whopping $3.50! We always brag on the cook so she takes special care of us. At lunch, almuerzo, on days when the soup or entree contains meat (we’re seafood-eating vegetarians), she prepares a separate veggie soup and then gives us a choice of fish or shrimp. The whole thing is topped off with fresh juice, her homemade pastry and cafe con leche. (Oh, yeah; we’re losing weight down here; no problem). This gal knows her way around fresh herbs and spices and could go toe-to-toe with great chefs in Paris and New York. Ruthi and I want to stow her away in our luggage come March 10. She will be sadly missed, as will be the bartender who has kept us in the best coffee (outside our own apartment) and juices in Ecuador.
Note–We haven’t written about our adventures in Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires yet-that will come in a later blog. But, in late February, upon our return from Argentina, we discovered that the rainy season had ended in Ecuador and along with the really warm, sunny days, we also were getting beautiful sunrises out our picture windows. Ahhhhhh, Ecuador.
Ruthi and Rankin