Agua de Pitimas

Well Miko left for Paraguay on Wednesday and I’ve been left to my own devices for a bit. I’ve mostly been staying out of trouble. As far as you know.

Walking back from an expedition to pick up some sausage for some beans and franks (had a craving) I got something that says it’s bratwurst but looks like an anemic hot-dog and I’m not sure whether to cook it or not, but all that aside, and back to the story. I passed back through the Plaza de Flores to smell the flowers. It’s like walking through a botanical garden. The plaza is in front of a monastery of cloistered Carmelite nuns called the Carmen de la Asunción. There’s a small doorway where they sell this mythical drink called “agua de pitimas” which shocked me that I actually understood it to mean water of a little more, from the native Kichwa term “piti” which means little. I knew those classes would come in handy some day.

This magical elixir is made by the nuns in a tradition stretching back 300 years. Evidently even the doctors around here recommend this drink for calming nerves and curing headaches. It was even written about in Don Quixote, who used it to heal a broken heart.

So I paid my 50 cents, which goes to the nuns, “dulce or sin dulce?” he asked. “Dulce, por supuesto, gracias.” I couldn’t tell what all was in there… lemon verbena, chamomile, rose water…but it did make my head feel kind of funny. Probably the sugar.

I also bought this bottle of wine made by them, for good measure.
I stole this picture of the market and the doorway cause I forgot my camera…


On the way back from a walkabout Wednesday we came across this protest between us and the rest of our route home (just up the street a couple of blocks past the mounted police.) Decided to wait it out and record it. All and all, it seemed like a pretty chill demonstration.

Seems like a lot of issues are coming up, from fears that changing re-election law is paving the way to dictatorship, to protection of the environment from mining and oil and putting up the Galapagos islands as collateral for loans from China, skirmishes around free speech issues, removing the gas subsidies, etc.

Ecuador has come out of some bad times in the past, is wary of what is happening with other South American countries, particularly Venezuela, and is distrustful of foreign claims to its resources and suspicious of manipulation embedded in global trade agreements that heavily favor richer countries at the expense of developing nations. One can learn a lot here, I think, about what it means to be a citizen of the world.


What a great trip back to visit family and friends! Stayed in Gunbarrel for a couple of weeks at the Twin Lakes Inn, a homey and off the beaten path little resident hotel we shared with some odd people, including marathon runners from Japan, researchers from Israel and assorted travelers. It was a great base for visiting friends in Boulder and picking up supplies.

The last week we stayed with Kyle and Kashia and celebrated our nieta’s 2nd birthday.

Three weeks was just about right. But my time sense has become completely distorted. When I think of the trip now it seems both long and short. Our stay so far here too, both long and short. I can’t seem to get a handle on it being one or the other. Weird.

The trip back started off well… too well. I got suspicious things were going to change when we arrived in Quito and the airport staff were all wearing Dr. Seuss hats. Hmmm.

The valley that Cuenca is nestedin, was layered with clouds that sunk all the way down to the ground. Couldn’t even tell there was a town there from the air. We tried to land twice, and the pilot pulled up at the last minute each time into a steep climb, getting as close as he dared but still seeing no ground.

Plan B was then to fly to Guayaquil, about 20 minutes away, refuel, wait a bit and try again. During the landing at Guayaquil we sucked up a bird in the starboard engine and spent some hours grounded while they fixed it. (The plane, not the bird, RIP birdee)

We are so blessed to have such wonderful family and friends, thank you all for your love and hospitality, we are in your debt.

I think I forgot half of the Spanish I’d learned (so, 29 words or so?) …need to get back up to speed. Miko is heading to Paraguay in a couple of weeks and a couple of weeks after she returns I’m headed into the jungle. Stay tuned… 🙂

No Mucho

Not much happening of note, but thought I’d post because I’m procrastinating other stuff :p Pretty much just going to classes and getting ready for our trip back to Colorado towards the end of month.

Had to force myself to stop eating this very dangerous confection:

Not sure what it is, but it’s really good. Got it at Tortas de Colombia bakery/cafeteria on the way back from some unsuccessful errands. There seems to be two rules for for getting things done around here.

Rule 1: don’t try to accomplish more than one thing in a day.
Rule 2: don’t try to accomplish anything between noon and about 3:30pm. Most places shutdown for an afternoon break. So yeah, no crazy rushing around here to get things done over lunch hour. And lots of places are closed Monday too. Several interesting little tiendas also just seem to just open when they want to. I kind of admire their business model.

Hope everyone had a great mother’s day! We ended up having a romantic dinner with wine and candlelight and live music that we just stumbled into. Ended up at this place after a walk with no reservations and they had a whole agenda thing planned that those better informed than us were privy too. Afterwards we hung out in the park listening to more live music. No shortage of music, for sure, although the quality varies greatly.

Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve run out of news. And I have to get busy with some things..a firefly project, a chess tournament, a new sound track, homework. But maybe first, a little post-cake siestita…

May 40th

The last two days we’ve headed out for “supermaxi” for supplies and got rained out both times about half way. Today we made it a bit further before seeking refuge. We tried waiting it out, but it wasn’t letting up and we ended up heading back again. A consolation was passing by a little hole in the wall bakery I discovered by accident a few weeks ago; one that makes a really good bread-pudding-cake thingy. So it wasn’t a complete wash. And, as usual, we had some plan b places to grab lunch or coffee along the way for such contingencies.

May is known for raining a lot around here; they even have a saying that it rains a ton in April but in May you have to wear your ponchos/socks until the 40th (hasta el 40 de mayo no te quites el sayo) So you would think you’d see more rain jackets, umbrellas and such, but less than half the people we met walking about had anything like that. About half of the other half were milling in doorways and under eaves, some of them we saw on the way back too, so they were prepared to wait it out for an hour or more. The other half of that half were just winging it.

And we started Spanish classes again, yay! Two hours this morning, and every day hence for a couple of weeks before we head to Colorado. The expression of the day:

Siga no mas

I understood all the words individually, heard it before even, but its meaning wasn’t clear until today. Word by word it means “continue no more.” A little different interpretation is “continue only”, that is, continue and nothing more. Its usage is closer to the English phrase “go for it!” So if someone wants a bite of your sandwich, you can say “siga no mas” … or if you want to say “please go ahead” to someone you bump into while you’re both trying to squeeze out the door: siga no mas. You go head. So yeah, now I’ll be thinking of ways to slip it into conversations, it seems like a very useful phrase, so siga no mas, until we meet again. 

Sundays Sundays

We took a nice stroll down to the Tomebamba river today. The water was running fast, we’d had a good rain earlier. The streets were mostly empty, Sundays are pretty laid back. Took a few pictures below.

An old shopkeeper made my day last week. We go to this little shop once every two or three weeks to get butter. I always greet him and ask for “una media libra de mantequilla, por favor.” He goes to the back and washes his hands, puts on some plastic gloves and carves off a half pound of butter from a big block. I pay my $1.25, gracias and hasta luego. I guess curiosity got the best of him and he finally asked: “usted es de Argentina?” I don’t think I really “pass” here as anything latino, but I’ve often been curious about waiters and others I observe as bilingual blasting me with Spanish right out of the shoot. Then they’ll go to the next table and ask the gringos there for their orders in English. I thought they were just giving me a hard time and/or trying to help me pick up the language faster, but I’m going to have to start studying those Argentinians more closely for resemblances.

Rumiko doesn’t pass though and sometimes stops the little indigenous ladies cold as they stare up at her trying to figure out what planet she’s from; though she is getting on good terms with some of them at the mercados and is picking up this haggling stuff pretty well.

Next week we start back with the language classes. We’ve both been kind of goofing off with that, but Monday-Friday for 2 hours a day (this time a little later in the morning!) should get us back on track. We’re going to stick around until we’re fluent, so we might be here a while 😉

And yeah, the “smatterings” approach of last blog didn’t really work out. I think I need structure, just have to find the right amount.


Every morning a different alarm clock. This morning, awoke to this…

Which was a fitting start to a new agenda. An agenda I call “smatterings”, which is kind of an anti-todo-list. Rather than a structured routine, figured I’d try a pick-list of things. Depending on what mood I’m in at the time. There’s a little structure in that it’s still a list, but that’s just so I don’t have to remember all the fun things in my repertoire. Which is more than you might think 🙂

A less fun thing was got wiped out with a stomach bug again. Down for most of the day before. Then had a killer head-ache in its wake. Couldn’t do much about the stomach issue but take some Sierogon, which helped, but the headache I absolutely crushed with some over the counter (here) Winadeine F. One tablet has 30mg of codeine, so like a Tylenol 3, a box of 60 cost me $5.

Not much local news to report of late. Have been making our computer systems more nomadically robust with some cloud services (dropbox) and security  (boxcryptor.) The idea being to be able to lose all our devices and start with a new one from scratch, from anywhere, without losing anything important. And be able to do emergency financial moves or contact people securely on systems at cyber cafes or on a borrowed smart phone. Will write some more about this on the Essential Nomad blog.

Well, time to hit the mercados, maybe find some lunch and try to wrap up a project.

hasta luego cocodrilos!


Things are pretty low key here at the moment. Had a nice romantic dinner out with miko and I got to finally try the famous fanesca soup that’s only made on the week of Easter. Pretty tasty! Many different kinds of beans and grains (they say 12, one for each apostle, but I didn’t count.) Salted cod cooked in milk garnished with a hard boiled egg and mini-empanada. I was wondering why all the sudden, at the mercados, many venders were selling bags of salted fish for the last few weeks. It definitely added a new aroma to the place, which is harder to do than you might think.

The immune systems of the little kids that practically live in these mercados while their moms are working must be amazing. They are usually playing on the floor and between the foot traffic with toys and with the dust, dirt and organic residues they must be exposed to just about everything. I was waiting for miko to finish negotiations over some broccoli last week when a little tyke of about two hugged the back of my legs. I lifted him up and we inspected some fruits while his mom and my wife continued business. I think he was ready to come home with us.

We’ll probably get back to formal Spanish lessons the end of the month, but enjoying the reprieve for the moment. Decided to start exploring the city more with long walks every day. A couple of pictures from today. Notice the streets are practically deserted. On Sundays most people are staying home with their families and most of the shops are closed.

Strange Characters

It’s a cool day in Cuenca. Not much news, we’re still alive. Our first month of intense Spanish lessons has drawn to an end. We skirted a fine line between kickstarting our learning and exploding our heads. This weekend we can decompress a bit. Next week I need to get tickets for the visit back to the US the end of May, file taxes, follow-up on various issues related to health insurance, wrap up my little side project on synthesizing the sound of the wind (a follow-up to the ocean waves project.)

We said goodbye to several students we’d met daily during the break. We’ve either been encountering amazing people or amazing story-tellers, probably a bit of both. A fellow named Gary, for example, was heading out for Vilcabamba Friday. Buses were full, he was going to show up and wing it. He took classes for a couple weeks after a month long engagement in Saudi Arabia where he was evidently working as an expert consultant inspecting their new billion dollar counter-terrorism fence. maybe. I was impressed as his facility in putting together a limited vocabulary and carrying on extended conversations in Spanish. He also disgorged a torrent of Arabic, informing me that it was the first of 5 requirements to become a Muslim, to recite that passage by heart. Not that he was a Muslim, he assured.

Alan and Pikku were a another couple we met, much like us, they’d gone the 1 month intense route and then backed off to a couple of hours a day after a break, which is what we’re planning. She’s Norwegian, he’s Canadian. She works in a local restaurant, is trying to get contracted as a specialist teaching Medical English, they spoke only Hebrew at home until they had learned it and now they are speaking to each in Spanish. A Czech we met was leaving to go north where he was teaching an indigenous tribe English, he was probably close to 70 and full of stories but had a habit of spewing food, so one had to maintain a little distance that he kept trying to close as he got more into his story. Another Canadian was heading for Columbia, looking for a ritzy health club where he could work as a physical trainer and forestall his entry back into the job market at home.

One of our class assignments this week was to head out to experience the protests and see if we could figure out what they were pissed about. Some pictures below<

don’t tax me bro

Back from lunch. Another new place, just off the main drag (Calle Larga) full of traffic sounds mixed with Pink Floyd and Nirvana. I had the Patacón Frances and miko had a pollo curry sandwich. The “bread” on hers, and the bottom layer of my dish, were both made of fried green plantain. Gluten free without trying. Evidently this plantain stuff is a big thing in Venezuela, which is my writing topic today. The country, not the weird non-banana banana.

Hmmm, how to pull this together. I polished off my tres leches cake picked up from a bakery on the way back just thinking about what to say, and I’m a third of my way through a cup of java brewed from beans harvested in Loya, a little town south of here, listening to the drum beats from the plaza where a group of indigenous is protesting mining operations while traffic is snarled and a cadre of riot police in cyber black uniforms are milling around looking a bit bored at the lackadaisical turn-out. And I’m still not sure where to start.

Oh yeah. Let’s start with the new impuestos in effect today. These are taxes on imported goods. Many of them are 45%. The document itself was around 80 pages or so and would list a group of things and then say “and others of the ilk” (but in Spanish.) We had a long talk about this in class today and it was interesting getting an inside perspective.

So Ecuador, like many countries dependent on petroleum revenues was hit pretty hard when OPEC deflated the global price bubble a while back, ostensibly to discourage the US from frakking, which had only recently, and only due to the high oil prices, become economically viable (i.e. profitable.) Besides whacking the frakkers it also whacked a bunch of countries that were living pretty much payday to payday with their oil revenues budgets. So it created some deficits and a bunch of schemes for making more money until the oil barrels started to uptick.

So taxes are a natural way for governments to raise money primarily on goods and on the middle class (and with goods you can actually double-dip the middle class.)

A more noble intention behind the import taxes is to encourage local production and protect against being undercut by cheap overseas labor and material and reduce the dependency on same.

However, there’s this other country, I’m talking about you now Venezuela, which has been trying the same tactic and is in big trouble. With long lines to buy toilet paper and diapers and fingerprinting and permanent markers to keep people from buying scarce essentials more than once. Many Ecuadorians are afraid they might be facing the same crisis as Venezuela and there are some big protests organizing for the 19th of this month to try to pull back from, or at least open discussion, on this direction.

Meanwhile, Venezuela is using the United States as a sock monkey, taking a comment made by Obama about Venezuela being a danger to themselves and the rest of Latin America as a call to arms to prevent the imminent invasion by the US (yeah, right) and, of course, to distract from the real problems with the current state of affairs and how it got there and why it remains. Kind of like the sock monkey of terrorism keeps us from looking at the influence of corporations and the advent of the police state in the US.

I’m not much into politics, but in this case it helps me to understand a little more about the culture I’m in and their immanent concerns. A lot of people are mad at Correa, economist that he is, for not managing the wealth a little better to not have been caught flat footed when the oil prices dipped. And they dislike the fact that this extensive laundry list of taxes on imported goods, most of which are not possible to produced or supplied locally, and many of which are critical to middle class quality of life, is following the lead of Venezuela and headed toward scarcity and ruin. Meanwhile, the blackmarket of goods from Columbia is doing brisk business. Go figure.