Trucha y papas. With soup, salad, and dessert: $6.50


One of the fun things so far here is the way information is networked. No yellow pages or google can find things like the guy who has a vegetable stand just outside the right and to the back of the mercado, with one eye that’s kind of funny, who sells camote (sweet potatoes) from peru that are the best you’ve ever tasted in your life. Or the shop where you can find a certain herb that’s 3 doors down on the corner of street x and y that has old test tubes and dusty medical stuff when you look in the darkened doorway and be sure you know the spanish name for what you’re looking for. Talk about quests…

Back to School and more Avocados

Took a rather long walk to the medicinal herb class today taught by a very knowledgeable Ecuadorian cook/alchemist/herbalist. It ran about 2 hours and was the first of 7 classes … got a ton of information to “process” as Boulderites used to say. I’m not sure where to start describing it either. Class opened with her burning some Palo Santo, a wood they use for much the same purposes as burning sage in North America. Then a short prayer to the plants, thanking them for the many ways they help and instruct us.

She made a pretty impressive “pan” balm as she was talking, extremely good for a variety of skin conditions. I took an intensive years ago in Boulder with a western herbalist and her balms usually consisted of one or two herbs, this one had everything and the kitchen sink.


We went through about 8 plants and some amazing properties they had for healing, their cultural history in Ecuador and how to use various parts of them, etc. which she’d go over in more detail in subsequent classes.

Avocado, for instance

The peel can be used for parasites. Peel one avocado, soak the peel in 4 cups of water overnight. Drink the next day. Do this for 5 days. The leaves of an avocado are used for treating headaches, just crush a wad of them and apply to your forehead. You can also make a poultice and put on the chest for bronchial relief.

We also got a couple of these to take back home and try:

Miko gave me one to try and they are killer astringent, had to drink about a quart of water to keep my throat from sticking together like velcro. I had one left and gave it to the housekeepers as they were leaving. It’s a native plant here, but they had never seen it. They were going to eat it later. I’m glad I won’t be around when they are cussing me out. Of course, they won’t be cussing very loud, I couldn’t even talk. It’s called Sacha Inchi and makes an oil that’s very healthy to cook with, rich in omegas and a good snack when roasted (which takes out the bitterness). You may be able to find them at whole foods,

Anyway, tomorrow we head out again, it’s about a 1 hour walk there, so we also get our exercise of the day and learn a ton more.

And for VJ, they  know about castor oil here too 🙂

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

An old friend harassed me about the last post being a bit too naive. That there are cultural and social forces that can skew the psychology of entire populations of people. And I agree. The way a culture influences our very perception of reality is a long standing fascination of mine. And, of course, the way we perceive fundamentally influences our behavior. Our socialization and media are also powerful determinants of how we see the world.  And most of these mechanisms pivot around whether we are inside or outside a particular group; an important evolutionary construct for our species survival in the wild, to gang up to escape predators and find food.

And I was actually commenting, probably poorly, on that very thing working against us. I’ve recognized a certain pattern in people who are unsuccessful in their adjustment to another culture, especially when I lived in Japan, where individual behavior was ascribed to the group and negative judgments were quickly projected to the Japanese as a whole. From that point on, all of their social interactions became less about the individual and more about the nationality. and these discontents usually left with some firm opinions about how all people in Japan acted and why it was such a disagreeable culture. Easy to do. The tendency to group and polarize is built into our very language, our sports, our politics, etc. And once we start seeing things a certain way, we will naturally accumulate more and more evidence for our point of view (and discard more and more data that contradicts it.

And these stereotypes may even be true, some of the time, for some of the people. But there are other stations on the dial, some with more nuanced and interesting music that are just as true, if not more so. Like the one where we realize all the characters back in our homey group are also in this new group, and even more. So the task becomes less automatically judging a behavior as this or that quality of the country and observing what’s at play in this particular individual. And yes, sometimes individuals can just be cut-outs of their party line, be that national, regional, or billy-bob podunk arkansas  and they can be living pretty much on autopilot within this cut-out. But usually everyone has a spark of their own under these veneers and this is the frequency I was advocating one attend to when entering new currents of humanity. It’s more enriching for both parties.

Later, I do hope to delve more into some of the fascinating cultural perceptions in a way that broadens my own experience of reality. What I learned most about my stay in Japan wasn’t anything really about the Japanese culture, but about my own assumptions about reality.

Snowflakes, Avocados, Pears and Doritos

An interesting question came up on an expat forum this morning, about how well one feels about living where you are a minority as a predictor of how well you might adjust to another country. Talked to miko about this and she claims, “I’m not a minority, I’m a foreigner” in her typical lateral logic. I said I thought the similarities between the two are you are both outsiders in a way. In a sense, I’ve always felt like an outsider, so it’s not that different.

But I think there’s a danger holding such a perspective solely because one is living abroad in that there’s a more encompassing point: people are pretty much alike. As much as we all like to think we’re each special snowflakes, when these flakes hit the ground, warm in the sun, there is this flow of humanity, the good the bad, the amazing, the mundane, the awake and the asleep, it’s a current where there are still distinctions, but they are in the character of the individuals rather than the nationality, race, gender, religion or education. So I guess there’s some merit in the snowflake hypothesis after all, and perhaps less in the minority/foreign one.

I got up today at an ungodly 6:00am to stand in line with other foreign and domestic snowflakes at the ministry of foreign affairs, arriving there by taxi one hour before the doors opened at 8:30 as advised by our avocados. This is part of the mysterious (to us) process for getting our “cedula” or national id card, that opens other doors here. Miko brought her kindle, I was content just to close my eyes and float in the sea of conversations, seeing how many words I could recognize. Which brings me to a handy strategy for memorizing new words.

Avocado, for example, is my mental image for quickly memorizing the word for lawyer: abogado. I just imagined a big green avocado with a pencil moustache and tie carrying a briefcase and BAM, I’ll remember it forever. And so will you, probably. This is a secret(?) technique for remembering foreign words quickly. Miko was having problems remembering the word for “lost” which is “perdido.” Once I helped her imagine, just for fun a giant pear that spilled his bag of doritos and was looking for them under the couch, she has had no problems.

People with far more patience and time to kill than I claim you can go through the complicated visa and cedula processes here without an avocado. But, for example, if one were to say, sign some of the paperwork that took weeks to get the appropriate stamps and notarizations and bureaucratic seals with a black pen instead of a blue one as we almost did today, before our abogado casually asked if that was a black pen and offered his own, one would have to start the process for that document all over again.

And the word for avocado? Aguacate.

And today’s phrase of the day: Hay una fuga en este, or “there is a leak in this thing”, as in when you return the rice cooker you borrowed from the apartment manager that created a puddle on the kitchen floor.

Food Storage

Went to breakfast with a couple we met last March. This was their shopping day, so afterwards we tagged along. Hit the mercado, then a few surrounding places. One that sells special eggs you have to buy on either Tuesday or Saturday called Lunes de Heuvos which is not eggs of the moon like I was thinking, but rather some native indian word. I think they are  also called criollos eggs. Anyway, the yolks are supposed to be rich orange, like we had in Japan. Looking forward to getting some next round and I’ll try to photograph the yolks. Picked up some butter, they carved a half a pound off what must have been at least a 30lb slab. One dollar. Could get milk or cream there too, in either a carton or plastic bag.

So how the title relates to this is that butter, eggs and milk aren’t usually stored in the fridge. They just leave them out and they stay good for a couple of weeks; the butter was really tasty! Just had some on pan toasted bread (no toaster, had to improvise 🙂

And if you’re wondering about the totally unrelated photos I’m including with the articles —well I’m collecting street art, this one was taken on the shopping expedition.

Place #2

Moved in and we’ll be here until February 16th, with a little sidestep for one day on January 17th to vacate the room for a prior reservation. Internet connection is a little wimpy here, so skype and magicjack may cut our calls short sometimes 🙂

All of our Possessions

Place Numero Dos

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Traveling Light

Tomorrow we move and I haven’t even started packing yet. I figure it will take me less than an hour. Kind of liking this aspect of minimalism! Heading to the middle of el centro for a little over a month and then to our final destination for the rest of 2015. Also discovered that instead of fumbling with the unlock on my android phone, clicking the camera icon and then framing a shot I can just swipe from right to left and the camera view comes up ready to snap a shot. Qué bien!